2021.05.25 10:25

EU not only ‘debating’, says Lithuanian president after ‘swift’ adoption of Belarus sanctions

BNS2021.05.25 10:25

EU leaders acted unusually swiftly and unanimously to condemn the Belarusian regime's actions and agree on new targeted economic sanctions, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said after the European Council's meeting. 

"It was very important for us to send a signal, and send it so swiftly as to leave no doubt to anyone [who thinks] that the Council of Europe is debating, philosophising and making no decisions," Nausėda said in a video emailed by his office.

"That is why we ended the discussion earlier than I had expected, and the text was approved quite unanimously and swiftly, and circulated very early by Brussels standards," he added.

In the course of discussion, it was agreed to expand the list of sanctions against both individuals and legal entities linked to the Minsk regime and to include targeted economic sanctions to be proposed by the European Commission, according to the president.

"These targeted economic sanctions emerged for a reason. We are really concerned that broad economic measures could also adversely affect Belarus' civil society and people fighting against the regime," Nausėda said.

Read more: Belarus scrambles air force, diverts Vilnius-bound flight to Minsk to arrest dissident

"Therefore, measures have to be used in a sensitive way and aimed primarily at those responsible for these horrendous acts now being committed by the Belarusian regime," he added.

Lithuania was given the opportunity to start the discussion at the European Council's meeting on Monday, according to Nausėda.

"I believe that was because of our active stance both last August and in the months that followed, and, of course, because we were directly affected by this unprecedented event," he said.

Belarus' forced grounding of Ryanair's Vilnius-bound passenger flight from Athens prompted EU leaders to listen to Lithuania's concerns about the Astravyets nuclear power plant, according to the president.

"I also specifically raised the Astravyets issue, because this facility looks even more frightening in the current context," he said. "If the regime can ignore the danger to the lives of people aboard a flight, it may care even less about potential consequences of an incident at the Astravyets plant."

"My colleagues took this information with understanding and I think that our discussions with the European Commission and with our Latvian and Estonian colleagues about not buying electricity from Belarus should move much faster and yield more tangible results."

The European Council had "a historic and very diverse discussion", Nausėda said, adding that "perhaps for the first time after a long break, we took a very principled and very profound position on the Russian issue".

A united EU position that is resilient to Russia's pressure gives more motivation and hope to the Eastern Partnership countries, he noted.

On Monday, EU leaders strongly condemned the forced landing of the Ryanair flight in Minsk and the detention by Belarusian authorities of journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, and urged EU-based airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace.

They also asked the Council to adopt further targeted economic sanctions against the Minsk regime and called on the International Civil Aviation Organization "to urgently investigate this unprecedented and unacceptable incident".

The leaders called "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".

They also expressed solidarity with Latvia following Minsk's expulsion of its embassy staff after Belarus' official flag was replaced with the white-and-red one used by the opposition at the world ice hockey championship in Riga.

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