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Sources Say EU Set To Extend Belarus Arms Embargo

BRUSSELS -- EU officials have agreed to extend for another year the bloc's arms embargo against Belarus, several sources familiar with the negotiations who are not authorized to speak on the record told RFE/RL on February 15.

Hungary initially wanted to link the extension of the embargo to the swift adoption of the Belarus Partnership Priorities, an EU document outlining the bloc's future relationship with Minsk in areas such as people-to-people contacts, environmental issues, economic cooperation, and human rights that has been under negotiation for two years.

The Partnership Priorities document was close to being signed in 2018, but Lithuania insisted on including several safeguards regarding the Astravyets nuclear power plant that is being built with Russian assistance in Belarus just 50 kilometers from the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.

Under pressure from the other 27 EU member states, Budapest backed down on the demand to formally link the two issues, but there was an agreement that Belarus would host what sources call "a high-level event" within the framework of the Eastern Partnership in October.

The Eastern Partnership is a multiprong initiative aimed at bringing Belarus and five other former Soviet republics closer to the EU without implying future EU membership.

The embargo, which has been extended annually since its introduction in 2011, is expected to be approved by the bloc's ambassadors next week and officially extended just before the February 28 deadline, together with the visa bans and asset freezes imposed on four individuals believed to have played key roles in the unresolved disappearances of four Belarusians in 1999 and 2000.

During the rollover process in the last two years, Hungary managed to exempt biathlon rifles and other arms used in sports.

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