BRUSSELS — The European Union imposed sanctions Friday on 40 officials suspected of election misconduct and a brutal security crackdown on protesters in Belarus, which quickly retaliated by announcing its own sanctions against the EU and recalling its ambassadors from Poland and Lithuania.
Russia, in turn, said it would follow Belarus’ lead on sanctioning officials in the 27-nation European bloc, while the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it had followed the EU and imposed sanctions on eight Belarus officials.
The individuals subject to the sanctions that EU leaders endorsed overnight do not include Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose disputed reelection to a sixth term has triggered nearly eight weeks of protests and a government crackdown on peaceful protesters, opposition activists and journalists.
The EU leaders suggested that Lukashenko, once dubbed Europe’s last dictator, could be subject to sanctions later, if he does not enter into talks with his country’s political opposition. Those targeted in the meantime include Interior Ministry, police and security officials, as well as members of the Belarus Central Electoral Commission.
The leaders also urged the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, “to prepare a comprehensive plan of economic support for democratic Belarus.”
In response, the Foreign Ministry of Belarus issued a statement announcing its own sanctions against European officials. The ministry didn’t reveal the list and gave no details as to how many officials were on it.
“Belarus is always, in words and in deeds, against confrontation. We are for dialogue and understanding. But as a sovereign state, we’re also determined … to respond to unfriendly actions,” the ministry said in a statement.
If the EU further ratchets up “the sanctions flywheel,” there could be “more serious consequences,” according to the statement, such as Belarus pulling out of joint programs and projects, or revising its diplomatic relations with the bloc.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticized the EU’s move and said Moscow would adopt the Belarusian sanctions list since the move would be in line with Russia’s obligations under its union agreement with Belarus, a former Soviet republic.
In Washington, the Treasury Department said the individuals subject to new U.S. sanctions include Belarus’ interior minister, his deputy, and two top members of the country’s election commission who “are responsible for, or have participated in, undermining democratic processes in Belarus.”
Several law enforcement officials were also targeted by the sanctions, which include a freeze on any assets they may have in U.S. jurisdictions and a ban on Americans conducting business with them.
“The Belarusian people’s democratic aspirations to choose their own leaders and peacefully exercise their rights have been met with violence and oppression from Belarusian officials,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
EU agreement on the sanctions was held up for weeks by one of the smallest member countries. Cyprus used its veto to block the action, which required a unanimous vote of the 27 EU members.
Cyprus wanted its EU partners to also impose sanctions against Turkey for its energy exploration work in waters where the Mediterranean island nation claims exclusive rights before it would agree to the Belarus sanctions. The deadlock was broken just after midnight when the leaders issued a statement in Cyprus’ support and criticized Turkey.
All EU member countries, including Cyprus, reject the official results of the Aug. 9 presidential election in Belarus, which gave Lukashenko 80% of the vote to extend his 26-year tenure.
Information for this article was contributed by Yuras Karmanau, Jim Heintz, Daria Litvinova and Matthew Lee of The Associated Press.