E.U. Agrees to Sanction Lukashenko, but Gives Him Time to Back Down

BRUSSELS – The European Union’s foreign ministers agreed on Monday to impose sanctions on Belarusian President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, who is widely viewed as the theft of the recent elections. However, they also seemed to offer him a way out of the sentences.

The proposed sanctions must first be subjected to a legal review and may not be implemented if Mr Lukashenko holds serious talks with the opposition about new elections and facilitates the action against demonstrators.

Around 40 Belarusian officials have already been punished with asset freezes and a travel ban. After cracking down on protesters in Belarus on Sunday, EU foreign ministers who met in Luxembourg agreed to add the authoritarian president and others to the list.

“In line with the EU’s gradual approach, the EU stands ready to take further restrictive measures, including against companies and high-level officials, including A. Lukashenko,” it said in a statement.

As soon as the legal work is done, ministers will have to approve the implementation of new sanctions trying to put pressure on Mr Lukashenko. He has been under EU sanctions in the past, but they were lifted in 2016 when he relaxed the opposition and released some critics from prison.

Mr Lukashenko is already sanctioned by the United States and Great Britain, as well as the Baltic States. In response, Belarus has expelled several ambassadors from the EU member states.

Ministers also agreed on Monday to cut back financial support from the European Union to the Belarusian government and divert some of the funds to civil society groups. The bloc has already stated that after the August 9 elections it will not recognize Mr Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus, whom it considers fraudulent.

“The EU calls on the Belarusian authorities to seek a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis through an inclusive national dialogue with society in the broader sense,” said the ministers, supporting a plan by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to establish to contribute to such conversations.

Ministers said a major aid package would be available to support a democratic transition.

Ministers also agreed to impose sanctions on Russian officials and organizations found responsible for poisoning Aleksei A. Navalny, a prominent opposition leader, with a nerve agent.

However, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell Fontelles did not provide details on who could face sanctions in Russia or when the measures could come into effect, stating that technical work in preparation for the measure would continue.

Monika Pronczuk contributed to the research.