Updated at 16:23,20-06-2018

Brussels will bear release of political prisoners in mind while deciding on sanctions against Belarus

The European Union will take into account the recent release of six political prisoners while deciding whether to prolong, remove or suspend its restrictive measures against Belarus, Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

Ms. Kocijancic recalled that that the release of the political prisoners had been described as a “long-sought step forward” in a joint statement of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, and Johannes Hahn, the EU’s commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and enlargement negotiations. “This step represents important progress toward the improvement of relations between Belarus and the EU,” Ms. Kocijancic said. “This positive event and other considerations that led to the imposition of restrictive measures on Belarus will be taken into account by the EU.”

Ms. Kocijancic would not say what considerations she had in mind.

When asked whether the issue of sanctions would be discussed during an informal Gymnich meeting of the EU’s foreign ministers in Riga on September 4 and 5, Ms. Kocijancic replied that the ministers would discuss the situation within the Eastern Partnership region and in Russia in general. She stressed that the main objective of Gymnich meetings was to exchange views on a broad range of issued, while decisions are made at formal meetings.

Ms. Kocijancic sidestepped a question about the possibility of the abolition or suspension of sanctions against Belarus before the October 11 presidential election. A decision on Belarus should be made no later than the end of October, she said.

A total of 175 individuals, including Alyaksandr Lukashenka, are currently subject to entry bans and all of them plus 18 economic entities are subject to asset freezes within the EU.

The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council drew up the blacklist in January 2011, following a brutal police crackdown on a post-election protest in Minsk. The list was repeatedly extended and included as many as 243 Belarusian individuals and 32 business entities at one point.