LONDON (Reuters) – The European Union’s lending arm, the European Investment Bank, is to stop funding new projects in Belarus as part of the bloc’s response to the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, a source close to the bank said on Friday.
“There was a board meeting yesterday where it was made clear,” the source told Reuters on the condition of anonymity, adding that no projects had been in the pipeline.
The EIB has spent a total of 550 million euros ($652.14 million) in Belarus, having signed its first project in the country back in mid-2017.
The step comes amid ongoing international pressure on Lukashenko, who is turning to Russia for support to try and ride out the crisis.
The United Nation’s Human Rights Council on Friday approved an EU-led resolution for closer monitoring of alleged rights violations following the disputed August presidential vote.
U.N. rights investigator Anaïs Marin told the session that member states needed to act to prevent a major geopolitical rift. “Let’s not allow another iron curtain to descend on the European continent,” she said.
Marin said more than 10,000 people have been “abusively arrested”, with more than 500 reports of torture and thousands “savagely beaten”, since President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in a presidential election on Aug. 9.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) which is majority-owned by EU countries and institutions, but also has Russia, the United States and other top governments as shareholders, said it was “deeply concerned” about the situation, though wouldn’t comment further on its lending.
The EBRD invested 160 million euros in Belarus in the first half of 2020, more than double the 67 million euros it spent in the first half on 2019.
A former Soviet collective farm manager, the authoritarian Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994 but has battled a wave of anger over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy and his human rights record.
State-approved exit polls showed him winning 79.7% of the presidential vote in August while his main opponent, Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who emerged from obscurity to lead rallies against him, received 6.8%.
(Additional reporting by Karin Strohecker in London; Editing by Tommy Wilkes)