On 15 February the European Council confirmed that sanctions against 170 Belarusians, including President Alyaksandr Lukashenko, will not be extended. Sanctions included a list of visa bans and frozen assets which will be lifted on the 1st of March.
Three Belarusian companies will be removed from the list of visa bans and asset freezes as well. However, there are still four individuals who will remain on the list. These four are linked to the unsolved disappearances of two opposition leaders, a journalist and a businessman. An arms embargo also remains in place and will be extended for another year. EU foreign affairs Chief Federica Mogherini denied that geopolitical concerns played a role and said: “This is clearly not a rosy or perfect picture … but when we see significant, even if limited steps, in what we feel is the right direction, we feel it is right to encourage them,” Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dzmitry Mironchik welcomed the decision and said: “An important stage toward full normalization of Belarus–EU relations. It opens up new opportunities for a broader, diverse cooperation between the two sides”.
Belarus has been ruled by Lukashenko since 1994, and there is no opposition in parliament. In 2006 the EU imposed sanctions on Belarus for the persecuting of the political opposition and denying basic rights and freedoms of its citizens. However, the foreign ministers of the EU have noticed that the Belarusian president released the last political prisoners. Together with the peaceful presidential elections in October, this was a step forwards in EU-Belarus relations. Still, the EU will keep a close watch on the human rights situation in Belarus, especially in the run-up to this year’s parliamentary elections. There are still improvements needed for Belarus like a more open government and the civil society to be more involved, and more press freedom.