BERLIN -- European Union foreign ministers have agreed to impose sanctions on up to 20 senior Belarusian officials suspected of involvement in election fraud and a brutal crackdown against protesters since the country's disputed August 9 presidential election.
The ministers did not rule out that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will be among those named on the sanctions list if the country doesn’t cease human rights violations.
Meanwhile, on August 28, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) offered to mediate between Lukashenka's government and opposition leaders who charge that the presidential election was rigged in favor of Lukashenka.
In another diplomatic gesture on August 28, the missions of the United States, the EU, Switzerland, and Britain issued a joint statement saying they stand in solidarity with the people of Belarus and their determination to seek democratic change.
The statement condemned “brutal and disproportionate use of force by the law enforcement authorities against peaceful protesters and ordinary citizens” and urged the Belarusian authorities to stop the violence and threats to use military force and release all people unlawfully detained.
Belarus has experienced nearly three weeks of unprecedented protests since the election gave Lukashenka a landslide victory. More than 7,000 people have been detained, hundreds have been injured, and at least three killed. More large-scale protests are planned over the weekend.
EU diplomats are not naming who may be put on the sanctions list, saying every step will follow legal and formal procedures.
Asked if Lukashenka is on the list, Sweden’s foreign minister said that EU diplomats are using the term “high political level” to describe those whom the sanctions will target.
“We have also decided to have an option to gradually expand the list in the future,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told RFE/RL.
The EU foreign ministers were seeking in Berlin to gain political endorsements for a proposed sanctions list. Their agreement on the list allows for the formal approval of EU sanctions against targeted individuals.
Western countries are trying to find a political solution to end the crisis, which has raised concerns Lukashenka will unleash a bloody crackdown or Russia may intervene.
Current OSCE chair, Albanian Foreign Minister Edi Rama, told a special session of the Vienna-based body on August 28 that the situation is "deeply alarming” as he urged Belarus to allow a delegation to visit the country.
Linde, who is incoming chair of the OSCE, told RFE/RL that there was political support for an OSCE visit to Belarus to support an open and constructive dialogue in the country.
“There is almost a uniform backing for the initiative by the current and the next chairs of the OSCE -- in other words Albania and Sweden -- to try to arrange a visit to Minsk in order to facilitate a dialogue between the opposition and the regime,” Linde said.
Lukashenka has accused the West of waging a "diplomatic war" against Belarus, claiming that Western powers are seeking to foment a "color revolution." He also put the military on high-alert, using the army to intimidate protesters while accusing NATO of amassing forces near the Belarus-Poland border in recent weeks. The alliance has denied it poses any threat.
Lukashenka continued his tirades against the West on August 28, trying to tie his own fate as Belarus’s ruler to Russia’s security.
"Belarus is just a springboard to Russia, as always," he said.
"Unlike Hitler, who sent his army to Moscow, they are trying to destroy the government in place here and replace it with a new one that will ask another country for military assistance and deploy troops."
Deploying Russian forces to Belarus would be a mistake, said Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the self-exiled former presidential candidate who has become an unlikely leader of the Belarusian opposition.
"This is our internal problem, an internal issue that Belarusians must resolve with the Belarusian government," Tsikhanouskaya told RFE/RL from Vilnius, where she fled amid threats to her family.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun on August 28 said it is "clear to the world" that the recent presidential election in Belarus was "fraudulent."
"This is not a contest between East and West, and certainly not a contest between Russia and the United States," Biegun tweeted. "This is a battle between a ruler and his own people."