E.U. Rejects Belarus Election, With out Demanding a New One

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BRUSSELS – European Union leaders said on Wednesday that they would not recognize the results of the recent elections in Belarus and would shortly impose sanctions on those who participate Election fraud were involved in suppressing protests.

While the Europeans pressed for a peaceful dialogue between government and opposition, they did not explicitly demand a repeat of the vote, as the opposition had requested, but offered “a peaceful transfer of power in Belarus. "

" The EU will shortly impose sanctions on a significant number of those responsible for violence, repression and electoral fraud, "said Charles Michel, President of the European Council, which heads the heads of state and government of the Representing EU countries at the end of an extraordinary meeting to discuss the August 9 elections in Belarus, which are widely viewed as fraudulent.

While declaring that Europe "stands by the Belarusian people", Michel said that any solution to the crisis must be found in Belarus, not in Brussels or Moscow ", in a dialogue under the Patronage of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes both Russia and Belarus, could be initiated.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, said: "We support the Belarusian people on the path they are treading." She said the commission would "reuse" $ 63 million in support of the Belarusian government, with $ 2.4 million going to victims of violence, $ 1.2 million going to "civil society and independent media" and the rest would go to the fight against the coronavirus.

Chancellor Angela Merkel later said in Berlin that she saw no immediate possibility of mediation to resolve the situation in Belarus. She called the embattled Belarusian leader Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, but he refused to speak to her, she said.

"Mediation can only take place if all parties are in contact with one another," Ms. Merkel told reporters. Germany currently holds the revolving Presidency of the European Union and was instrumental in the talks on Ukraine after the Russian intervention in 2014.

The Chancellor also said that in a conversation on Tuesday she “made it very clear” to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that military intervention would further complicate the situation. "Belarus must be able to determine its own path," said Ms. Merkel.

When the European leaders held a conference call, Mr. Lukashenko ordered his police to put down protests in the capital Minsk to give a possible signal escalation after a week and a half of mass demonstrations against his rule. "There should be no more disruptions in Minsk," said Lukashenko in a comment by the official Belarusian news agency Belta. "People are tired," he added. "People demand peace and quiet."

In a video message to the European Council before the meeting, the opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is based in Lithuania, called on Europe to "support the awakening of Belarus" and "not to recognize these fraudulent elections." She said the opposition had appointed a "national coordination council" to push for new elections and a transfer of power, both of which Mr Lukashenko opposed.

The meeting on Wednesday did not significantly change the European position. The foreign ministers of the European Union had already described the election results as fraudulent last Friday and agreed on sanctions. It has called for the release of illegally detained demonstrators.

And four Central European countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – have jointly called for a new presidential election in Belarus.

However, Europe's ability to enforce its demands is low. No European country will go to war over Belarus, and there are already relatively severe sanctions against Belarus and Russia, especially since the annexation of Crimea.

While it is a matter of defending democratic values, fair elections and the rule of law, European leaders are also careful not to imply that they intend to intervene militarily or openly support the Belarusian opposition. This could give Russia an excuse to intervene by force.

Linas Linkevicius, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister bordering Belarus, succeeded in persuading Brussels to set up a fund to “help the victims of Belarusian oppression”. & # 39; & # 39; Brussels could also build on existing efforts by non-governmental organizations to help Belarusian civil society and political opposition inside and outside the country, just as the West tacitly helped the solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s.

The bloc has already imposed severe sanctions on Belarus, including an arms embargo, a ban on the export of goods for internal repression, an asset freeze and a travel ban on four people related to the unsolved disappearance of two opposition politicians are listed about 20 years ago.

The European sanctions against Belarus were eased in 2016 when it became clear that Mr. Lukashenko could loosen his authoritarian grip somewhat with restrictions on 170 individuals and three companies. However, they can easily be restored and updated.

The West should take special care not to offer the opposition any guarantees of security, said Ian Lesser, director of the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund. "The region is very aware that the West cannot deliver implicit and sometimes explicit assistance commitments from World War II," he said, including the Russia-Georgia War of 2008. "They are aware of this mixed story of Western reliability. “

At the same time, Lesser said, the West can itself provide financial and practical support to opposition actors, many of whom have already left Belarus or have been forced to leave Belarus. As the role of social media has become more and more evident," can this kind of support can be extremely significant, "he said.

Melissa Eddy contributed to reporting from Berlin.

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