The EU has said it will provide Belarus with € 3 billion (£ 2.6 billion) in grants and loans if the country “changes course” as the bloc seeks to step up internal pressure on the president, Alexander Lukashenko.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, came close to an all-out call for regime change by pledging funds in return for a “transition” to democracy.
“Our messages are twofold. To the Belarusian people: we see and hear your desire for change, democracy and a bright future, ”she said. “And to the Belarusian authorities: no repression, brutality or coercion will bring legitimacy to your authoritarian regime.
“Until now you have blatantly ignored the democratic choice of the Belarusian people. It is time to change course. When – and we think it is a case of when, not if – Belarus begins its peaceful democratic transition, the EU will be there to support it. “
The offer is part of a carrot and stick approach to forcing a change of approach or leadership in Belarus. This week, EU leaders agreed on a series of new economic sanctions in response to the arrest and detention in Belarus of opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.
Pratasevich and Sapega were arrested after Ryanair flight FR4978, on which they were traveling from Athens to Vilnius, was forced to land in Minsk over false allegations that a bomb was on board.
The sanctions, details of which have not yet been announced, come on top of an asset freeze and visa bans imposed on more than 80 Belarusian officials, including Lukashenko and his son Victor, due to the crackdown on peaceful protests against the rigged presidential election last August. result. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994.
A spokesperson for the committee said Von der Leyen also wrote to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and other opposition figures “to express his respect and admiration for courage and strength of the Belarusian people ”.
“The President declared that the EU was ready to engage in all possible ways to accompany a peaceful democratic transition in Belarus, and described in her letter the comprehensive plan for the EU’s economic support to a democratic Belarus of ‘a maximum amount of 3 billion euros,’ said the spokesperson.
The Kremlin has announced that Lukashenko will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday for talks on closer economic ties. Earlier today, the country’s prime ministers gathered in Minsk to pave the way for the presidents’ talks.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said the EU’s funding offer “should be a real incentive for the regime to change course.”
Lithuania’s foreign ministry said on Friday it was expelling two Belarusian diplomats for “activities incompatible with diplomatic status.”
” Of them [Belarus] intelligence agents working under diplomatic cover have been asked to leave Lithuania. No thank you and goodbye, ”Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Twitter.
Landsbergis said the move was in solidarity with Lithuania’s Baltic neighbor Latvia, which has seen all of its embassy staff expelled from Belarus.