Tag Archives: Minsk

Lukashenko regime self-isolates

“The Belarusian authorities ordered Head of Mission at the Embassy of Lithuania in Minsk and the Consul General in Hrodna to leave the country by 11 July, drastically limiting Vilnius’ diplomatic presence in the country” reads the statement by the spokesperson on limiting the diplomatic presence of Lithuania. (Image:Viktar Babaryka)

“With this, the Lukashenko regime is closing further diplomatic channels of communication. By also reducing the consular staff of EU member states’ diplomatic missions, the regime limits the opportunities for the Belarusians to travel to the EU. Already last October, at the request of the regime, the Lithuanian and Polish Ambassadors left the country, and in May this year the entire staff of Latvia’s embassy in Minsk was ordered to leave. Most recently, the Belarusian authorities asked the Head of the EU Delegation in Minsk to return to Brussels for consultations.

“By these actions, the regime further isolates itself. Such decisions are also detrimental to Belarus and its population. Keeping diplomatic channels of communication open in time of difficulties is crucial. The EU calls on the Belarusian authorities to allow full presence of the EU’s and it Member States’ diplomatic missions to allow diplomacy to work”.

EU-Russia relations in focus

Brussels 17.06.2021 “Today we are presenting a Joint Communication from the High Representative and the [European] Commission that responds to an invitation of the European Council of the last 24th of May. This Communication sets out the state of European Union-Russia relations in all their complexity and proposes the way forward – that is an important thing” said in remarks by the High Representative and Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press conference presenting the Joint Communication on EU-Russia relations.

Russia remains the European Union’s largest neighbour and it is an important global actor.

However, the deliberate policy choices of the Russian government – I am talking about the Russian government – over the last years have created a negative spiral in our relations.

To meet the strategic challenge posed by the Russian leadership, implementation of the five guiding principles has given us, the European Union, a purpose and an approach that defends our interests and values.

Time and again, the European Union has demonstrated unity, despite attempts by Russia to divide us. This unity remains our biggest asset and needs to be even more robust.

Under the present circumstances, we believe that a renewed partnership allowing us to realise the full potential of a close cooperation with Russia is a distant prospect.

The European Union therefore needs to be realistic and prepare for a further downturn of our relations with Russia – which are, right now, at the lowest level . This further downturn is the most likely outlook for the time being.

On the other hand, our ambition should be to explore paths that can help to change the current dynamics gradually, into a more predictable and stable relationship.

Today’s Joint Communication proposes to simultaneously push back, constrain and engage Russia. In that order: to push back, to constrain and to engage Russia, based on a common understanding of Russia’s aims and an approach that we can refer to as being a principled pragmatism.

Let us go a little bit more into the details of these three verbs

“First, we must push back against human rights violations, breaches of international law in our Member States and in our neighbourhood, and continue to speak up for democratic values.

“These are matters of direct concern to all members of United Nations, to all members of the OSCE and to all members of the Council of Europe, and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of any country.

As a fundamental part of this, we will continue supporting Ukraine and its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. This includes continuing to call on Russia to assume its responsibility as a party to the conflict and to implement the Minsk agreements.

Second, to constrain Russia’s attempts to undermine European Union’s interests. The European Union must become more robust and resilient.

For doing so, we must develop our cyber security and defence capacity, as well as our strategic communication capabilities, by stepping up work on foreign information manipulation and disinformation.

We should continue to strengthen our capabilities against hybrid threats.

We must also use the advantage provided by our energy transition and support the energy security of our neighbours. Our energy transition will affect Russia crucially from the point of view of an energy mix – and, as you know, Russia is a great provider of hydrocarbons in this energy mix.

We also need, finally, to step up support to our Eastern partners and increase their resilience through the implementation of the pending reforms.

Third, but not last, it is important to engage with Russia. It is important to engage with Russia on several key challenges to further defend our interests:

First, you know very well that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for global engagement on public health. The virus knows no borders and the border that the European Union and Russia share is about 2,000 kilometres long.

Second, we should engage in a close dialogue with Russia to combat climate change in the run-up to the COP-26 in Glasgow(link is external) and beyond.

Third, we should also continue to address the more technical engagement with the Russian government on the vast number of economic irritants in our relations.

Fourth, we should strengthen people-to-people contacts, which could include more visa facilitation, especially for young people, academics and work exchanges.

The following item is to continuing supporting – and to be more flexible and creative in doing so – Russian civil society and human rights defenders.

Finally, on the foreign policy front, we should continue to cooperate on regional issues – there are many of them, Middle East, Afghanistan, the JCPOA [Iran nuclear deal] or Libya – and on global issues: counter-terrorism and non-proliferation.

These are the proposals that together with the Commission we have been drafting to take forward our relations with Russia.

We will continue working closely together with our partners in the G7, NATO and other like-minded partners.

We want and we need to drive the relationship in a way that our interests and principles will be better defended and promoted.

This Communication will form the basis for the discussion at next week’s European Council, which is, according to the Treaty, the body that has to provide guidance on foreign policy.

I look forward to the Leaders – the members of the European Council – to provide this guidance in order to steer this, as you see, complex relationship”.

EU towards Belarus targeted sanctions

Brussels 09.06.2021 “…It is certainly the right moment to talk about Belarus. Belarus is again at the very top of the international agenda for the events that everybody knows and the continued repression by Lukashenko’s regime” the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell said, while addressing the Members of the European Parliament.

“This repression has been strongly condemned, as much as the massive human rights violations, which continue unabated since the past elections in August 2020, almost one year ago.

“The recent events are related with the hijacking of a European Union airplane flying between two European Union capitals, and forcing it to land in Minsk, with the intervention of a fighter jet, which is an act that overstepped many red lines. Not only it has jeopardised the security of over 100 passengers, but it has also challenged international rules relating with air transportation. The subsequent arrest of a young Belarusian journalist [Raman Pratasevich] as well as his partner [Sofia Sapega] is an abhorrent act. Their forced confessions on state television is another example of the flagrant violations of basic human rights that Lukashenko’s regime commit. It was certainly awful to watch these images of these people detained, crying and recognising in front of the state television like he has been committing I do not know how many crimes against Belarus. Believe me, it was a shameful image.

“We had to respond decisively against these images, against these facts, and already the day after the hijacking of the Ryanair flight, the European Council met, brought up this issue on the agenda and took decisions.

“The European Council called for additional sanctions, and for the first time they decided to include targeted economic sanctions. Until now all our sanctions [vis-a-vis Belarus] are usually taken on a personal basis, affecting individuals and entities, but not the whole economy of the country. This time the Council requested to take targeted economic sanctions.

“The Council also requested that all European Union-based air carriers avoid overflights of Belarus.

“It called also for adopting the necessary measures to ban overflight of the European Union airspace by Belarusian airlines and prevent access to European Union airports of flights operated by such airlines. And I can tell you that these measures have already been adopted last week and I will give you some details about it.

“Listings of individuals and companies, including those involved in the Ryanair incident, are well on track for adoption and they will be adopted by written procedure in the following days.

“As mandated by the European Council, and together with the Commission, we have started [preparing] targeted economic sanctions as the Council requested. They will be adopted at the next Foreign Affairs Council, I hope that the technical work will be finished and it will be affecting critical sectors of the Belarusian economy. But the final decision belongs to the Member States; I hope they will be united on that.

“In the meantime, we will continue to address the human rights violations in international fora. Let us not forget that there are now, we calculate, almost 450 political prisoners in Belarus. This group includes journalists arrested for simply doing their jobs – informing, students, representatives of civil society and ordinary citizens who protested against their freedoms and rights being taken away by the regime.

“We have been contributing to the establishment of mechanism to hold the perpetrators of human rights violations responsible and we will continue to support the victims and look for the accountability of perpetrators.

“We have published a plan for a €3 billion economic and investment package in support of a democratic Belarus, sending a message of hope and support to the people of Belarus, showing the prospects for a more prosperous country once they come back to a democratic system. This should be a strong incentive for economic development, should the country change. This €3 billion economic plan will support it. This is a way of proving that we stand with the Belarusian people, and we will continue doing so in the future…”

Hamas denies Minsk allegations

Brussels 25.05.2021 Palestinian radical movement denies accusations in involvement to Ryanair bomb threat.
Palestinian radical movement Hamas dismissed the Belarusian authorities’ statement on its possible link to the incident with a Ryanair jet, which made an emergency landing in Minsk on May 23 over a reported bomb threat, Reuters reports. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group “has nothing to do with that completely.”

“We don’t resort to these methods, which could be the doing of some suspicious parties that aim to demonize Hamas and foil the state of world sympathy with our Palestinian people and their legitimate resistance,” the Hamas spokesman was quoted by the news agency as saying.

A Vilnius-bound Ryanair flight that took off from Athens was forced to make an emergency landing at Minsk International Airport on Sunday after a reported bomb threat. The plane landed safely and no bomb was found onboard. Roman Protasevich, one of the co-founders of the Nexta Telegram channel, which was recognized as extremist in Belarus, was among the passengers. Protasevich, currently living in Lithuania and wanted in Belarus, was detained after the airliner had landed in the Belarusian capital. The plane left Minsk and continued on to Vilnius late on Sunday, May 23.

Belarus: EU bans flights

25.05.2021 European Council strongly condemns the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk, Belarus, on 23 May 2021 endangering aviation safety, and the detention by Belarusian authorities of journalist Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega.

The European Council:
– demands the immediate release of Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega and that their freedom of movement be guaranteed;

– calls on the International Civil Aviation Organization to urgently investigate this unprecedented and unacceptable incident;
– invites the Council to adopt additional listings of persons and entities as soon as possible on the basis of the relevant sanctions framework;
– calls on the Council to adopt further targeted economic sanctions and invites the High Representative and the Commission to submit proposals without delay to this end;
– calls on all EU-based carriers to avoid overflight of Belarus;
– calls on the Council to adopt the necessary measures to ban overflight of EU airspace by Belarusian airlines and prevent access to EU airports of flights operated by such airlines;
– stands in solidarity with Latvia following the unjustified expulsion of Latvian diplomats.
The European Council will remain seized of the matter.

Belarus: Borrell demands investigation

Brussels 24.05.2021 Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell called for an international investigation after Belarus forced a Ryanair passenger jet to land in Minsk, in an apparent effort to arrest an activist journalist.
“In carrying out this coercive act, the Belarusian authorities have jeopardised the safety of passengers and crew,” Borrell said in a statement issued on Monday, May 24, the following day after the incident.

“An international investigation into this incident must be carried out to ascertain any breach of international aviation rules,” the statement went on.

The Belarusian Transport Ministry on Monday announced it had set up a commission to carry out its own investigation into the forced landing and would publish the results soon, according to a report by the Russian RIA news agency.

EU to discuss incident at summit
The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, said EU leaders will discuss the incident at an EU summit beginning on Monday, adding that the affair would not remain “without consequences.”

Michel called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release the detained passenger – the 26-year-old journalist Roman Protasevich who worked for Poland-based online news service NEXTA, which broadcast footage of protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (pictured) last year during presidential elections mass protests.

An EU spokesman said the leaders would discuss “possible sanctions” on Belarus. High-level officials in the country have already been sanctioned by the bloc over the brutal repression of the opposition, protesters and journalists following disputed elections in August 2020. More than 34,000 people have been arrested in the country since August, and thousands have been brutally mistreated.

Protasevich was traveling by commercial airline RyanAir from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, when the Belarusian air force sent a fighter jet. The flight, on Irish airline Ryanair, was diverted and escorted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where the millennial opposition figure was taken into custody.

Protasevich was returning to Vilnius from an economic conference in Greece with Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Greek officials said.

The flight, which had been carrying some 170 passengers, should have taken about three hours. As it approached the border between Belarus and Lithuania, a MiG-29 fighter jet was scrambled to intercept it.

Lukashenko, who is often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” personally ordered the fighter jet MiG29 to escort the Ryanair plane to the Minsk airport after a bomb threat alert, his press service said. According to the statement, Lukashenko, an ally of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, gave an “unequivocal order” to “make the plane do a U-turn and land.”

EU-Russia: “many disagreements”

Brussels 22.03.2021 With a view to the European Council meeting of 25 and 26 March a phone call between the President of the European Council Charles Michel and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin took place on Monday 22 March 2021.

The Presidents discussed relations between the EU and Russia.

President Michel expressed the view that EU-Russia ties are at a low point and confirmed the EU’s approach of the five guiding principles, based on the EU’s core values.

There is currently disagreement in many areas.

From the EU perspective, the relationship with Russia can only take a different direction if there is sustained progress on issues like the implementation of the Minsk agreements, stopping hybrid and cyber-attacks on Member States and respect for human rights. In this context Alexey Navalny’s case was raised. Charles Michel reiterated the EU’s call on the Russian authorities to release Mr Navalny and proceed with a transparent investigation into the assassination attempt on him.
The leaders also exchanged views on the Covid pandemic, on vaccines and on regional and global issues.

Kremlin readout: “Taking into account the upcoming discussion at the European Council meeting on March 25-26 of the problems of relations between Russia and the EU, Charles Michel touched upon a number of issues concerning the current state of affairs and the prospects for dialogue between Moscow and Brussels.

Vladimir Putin assessed the unsatisfactory state of Russian-EU ties, which has developed due to the non-constructive, sometimes confrontational line of partners. The Russian side emphasized its readiness to restore a normal, depoliticized format of interaction with the European Union, if a real reciprocal interest is shown in this.

The issues of combating the coronavirus pandemic were also touched upon, in particular the possibility of using the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, the political settlement of the internal Ukrainian conflict, the situation in Belarus and some other topical issues”.

Cyprus blocks EU anti-Lukashenko sanctions

Cyprus vetoed attempts by the EU member-states to impose sanctions against some 40 Belarusian officials, including incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko.

The measures were being considered in response to the sham election that saw Lukashenko elected to a sixth term in office, and the Minsk government’s tough response to protesters who dispute the result.

Cyprus has demanded the sanctions against President Recep Tayip Erdogan to be applied first, due to a dispute over gas drilling in the eastern Mediterranean.

The chief of the EU diplomacy Josep Borrell vowed during the press-conference following the foreign affairs Council to reach unanimity by the next meeting. He added, that it is also his personal commitment.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics condemned the actions by Cyprus in a tweet, saying that it “sends a wrong signal to Belarusians, our societies and the whole world.”

#SOTEU: Leyen on FOREIGN POLICY

On 16 September, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in her first State of the Union speech, shared her vision for a stronger Europe and a better world after the coronavirus pandemic. Every year in September, the President of the European Commission delivers the State of the Union address before the European Parliament, Strasbourg. However this year the event took place in Brussels due to the coronavirus restrictions in France. Part of the speech, although significantly reduced, was devoted to foreign policy and human rights.

Be it in Hong Kong, Moscow or Minsk: Europe must take a clear and swift position. I want to say it loud and clear: the European Union is on the side of the people of Belarus. We have all been moved by the immense courage of those peacefully gathering in Independence Square or taking part in the fearless women’s march” president von der Leyen said.

“The elections that brought them into the street were neither free nor fair. And the brutal response by the government ever since has been shameful.The people of Belarus must be free to decide their own future for themselves. They are not pieces on someone else’s chess board.

“To those that advocate closer ties with Russia, I say that the poisoning of Alexei Navalny with an advanced chemical agent is not a one off. We have seen the pattern in Georgia and Ukraine, Syria and Salisbury – and in election meddling around the world. This pattern is not changing – and no pipeline will change that.
Turkey is and will always be an important neighbour. But while we are close together on the map, the distance between us appears to be growing. Yes, Turkey is in a troubled neighbourhood. And yes, it is hosting millions of refugees, for which we support them with considerable funding. But none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours.

“Our Member States, Cyprus and Greece, can always count on Europe’s full solidarity on protecting their legitimate sovereignty rights.

“De-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean is in our mutual interest. The return of exploratory vessels to Turkish ports in the past few days is a positive step in this direction. This is necessary to create the much needed space for dialogue. Refraining from unilateral actions and resuming talks in genuine good faith is the only path forward. The only path to stability and lasting solutions”.

EU condemns Belarus arbitrary detentions

“We strongly condemn the unabating arbitrary and unexplained arrests and detentions on political grounds in Belarus that have been taking place since the start of the pre-presidential election campaign. Most recently, Maria Kalesnikova, Andrei Yahorau, Irina Sukhiy, Anton Radniankou, and Ivan Krautsou have all been targeted, while 633 people were detained following Sunday’s peaceful Unity March. It is clear that the State authorities in Belarus continue to intimidate or allow intimidation of its citizens in an increasingly lawless way and crudely violate both their own domestic laws and international obligations” reads the statement by the head of the EU diplomacy Josep Borrell on arbitrary and unexplained arrests and detentions on political grounds in Belarus.

“The EU expects the Belarusian authorities to ensure the immediate release of all detained on political grounds before and after the falsified 9 August presidential elections.

“Civil society and actors engaged in discussions on the future of Belarus, including members of the Coordination Council, must be protected from intimidation, forced exile, arbitrary arrest and violence. The rule of law and justice must prevail and a thorough and transparent investigation into all alleged abuses must take place, in order to hold those responsible to account.

“We expect the authorities to stop political persecution and engage in an inclusive national dialogue, in full respect of the Belarusian people’s democratic and fundamental rights.

“The EU will impose sanctions on individuals responsible for violence, repression and falsification of election results”.

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