Several EU countries want sanctions brought back against Belarus, after the recent violent crackdown on demonstrators. Germany, Sweden and Poland have said President Alexander Lukashenko and many of his top officials should be banned from travel to any of the 27 EU member states.
Many opposition supporters who protested against the disputed presidential elections before Christmas were arrested. Lukashenko claimed he had won a fourth term. Thousands had taken to the streets.
The EU suspended a visa ban two years ago, and a restriction on high-level contacts with Belarusian officials – moves which had been aimed at diplomatically isolating the authoritarian regime. There is still a freeze on Belarus government assets in the EU.
But next-door-neighbour Poland clearly distinguishes between the former soviet state’s leaders and ordinary Belarusians, unilaterally offering them visas free. A Polish foreign ministry spokesman said a policy of helping Belarus society continued, but, on the other hand, there was a sharper policy towards those responsible for the toughest repression independent Belarus has seen.
The EU in recent years has tried to encourage Belarus to develop democracy. EU ministers are reviewing policy, but Minsk warns that sanctions it calls ‘futile’ would be counterproductive.