“The more violent the repression, the more difficult it will be for the EU to play it safe.”

As Belarus faces an escalation of violence since the re-election of Alexander Lukashenko as head of state, European foreign ministers will meet on Friday for possible sanctions against the regime, despite reluctance from some member states.

Will the anger of the Belarusians arouse the EU? For the fourth day in a row, thousands of protesters marched on Wednesday, August 12, in several major cities in Belarus to protest against the re-election of Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994. The strong man in Minsk was re-elected on Sunday with 80% of the vote against her rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, despite allegations of massive fraud.

Since then, oppression has become increasingly violent every night. Despite peaceful protests, the government responded immediately with force, firing rubber bullets, using water cannons and batons and disrupting access to websites in an attempt to silence the protest. On Wednesday, authorities announced the death of a 25-year-old protester who was arrested during a rally in Goumel in the south of the country. This is the second officially registered death since the start of the protest movement.

Almost 7,000 people were arrested across the country without knowing how many are being held. “This is the first time the regime has gone this far. Contrary to what we have observed before, violence has become arbitrary. It is no longer aimed only at public opponents but ordinary citizens,” said Alexandra Goujon, a political scientist, specialist in Belarus and a teacher at Science Po Paris, contacted by France 24.

“EU does not like to adopt sanctions”

In the run-up to this outbreak of violence, European foreign ministers will meet on Friday 14 August to discuss possible sanctions against the former Soviet republic. However, the adoption of retaliatory measures does not appear to be unanimous among the 27 and no sanction can be implemented without the unanimous support of the Member States.

“The European Union is not a structure that likes to adopt sanctions. For the most part, it does so as a last resort because these measures necessarily lead to a strengthening of relations. But the goal is not for Belarus to be pointed out, but for it to change. In addition. “Many states are convinced that foreign sanctions have never been used to bend a regime,” the specialist explains.

But it is difficult to close our eyes to these last nights of violence. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recalled that the 27 had lifted part of the 2016 sanctions against Belarus “because the country had previously taken steps in the right direction.” From now on “we must very seriously discuss the possibility of reversing the situation in recent weeks, and especially in recent days”. His Dutch counterpart, Stefan Block, more reserved, considered it important to avoid taking measures that could have a negative impact on the Belarussian population.

An argument that is only true, according to Alexandra Goujon. “Alexander Lukashenko never had a pro-European policy. He did not want to maintain deeper economic ties with the EU. His main trading partners were Russia and Ukraine. Even when sanctions were imposed on the EU in 2004, the regime did not impose an economic embargo, so the population was not affected. really “, nuances the political researcher.

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At present, Belarus is still under an embargo on the sale of weapons and equipment that can be used for repression. Likewise, four people involved in two unsolved disappearances are still banned from staying in the EU.

Deviating approach

If the 27 agreed on the development of the “very serious” situation in Belarus, the strategies of each state will also differ depending on their history or their situation, states Alexandra Goujon. “Poland, which has called for a swift response to help Belarusian opponents, is taking a stronger stand because it has always defended the political freedoms of its neighbors in the past.”

“Conversely, some states such as Hungary will be more reluctant to vote for sanctions, which they believe would be a form of interference and evidence of non-respect for a country’s sovereignty,” she added.

To this is added the fear of seeing their country hit with sanctions. “Hungarian leader Viktor Orban has been carrying out reforms that threaten the rule of law for several years. It is therefore easy to imagine that he will not give the green light to weaken a state even though his own policies may be reprehensible.”

How to reach a quick deal for the 27 seems hard to say. Months of negotiations had been necessary to reach a consensus in the Russian case during the Ukraine conflict in 2014. But the citizens’ massive use of social networks, despite the network’s cuts, and international pressure could still stir up European immobility. “The more violent the repression, the more difficult it will be for the EU to play it safe and not respond in time,” the academic concludes.