BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union imposed sanctions on Belarus’ interior minister and the head of its electoral commission but spared President Alexander Lukashenko, the bloc said in its Official Journal on Friday.
Publishing the names of the 40 individuals that EU leaders agreed to sanction early on Friday in response to an Aug. 9 election that the West says was rigged, the EU list included commanders, security officials and prison directors.
Lukashenko is not on the EU’s list, however. Despite pressure from the EU’s Baltic states, diplomats said Brussels was sticking to its policy of punishing powerbrokers as a last resort, so as to push for new elections.
Interior Minister Yuri Karaev and his deputy are the most senior officials to be targeted, which was first reported by Reuters on Sept. 7. The draft list faced a series of delays as the EU’s decision-making became entangled in internal conflicts.
EU leaders broke the impasse following a summit dinner in the small hours of Friday in Brussels.
The EU’s Belarus sanctions aim to support pro-democracy protests in Minsk against Lukashenko, whom opponents say has illegally prolonged his 26-year rule through a fraudulent vote.
The EU travel bans and asset freezes also include top security officials such as Alexander Valerievich Bykov, commander of rapid response forces and whom the EU accuses of “arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment, including torture, of peaceful demonstrators.”
Electoral commission chairwoman Lidia Mikhailovna Yermoshina is also now under sanctions, accused of intimidating voters and distorting the vote result.
Belarus earlier announced retaliatory sanctions against the EU.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Mark Potter)