Plans by the European Union to slap sanctions on Belarus have fallen into disarray after Cyprus said it will not agree unless the block also puts sanctions on its neighbour, Turkey, in a separate row that has raised tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The EU had vowed three weeks ago to impose sanctions on Belarus for alleged election fraud and human rights abuses.
Cyprus said this week it cannot support sanctions against Belarus officials on a list that was drawn up after the contested Aug. 9 election unless action is taken in parallel against Turkey.
“We have no alternative but to act the way we are acting,” said a Cypriot diplomat. “We have no issues with imposing sanctions on Belarus but we consider that we had a political understanding for both processes to go forward in parallel.”
Cyprus wants the EU to impose further sanctions against companies and individuals in Turkey which carries out drillings within the Mediterranean island’s exclusive territorial waters over the past year now.
Turkey began drilling for oil and gas near Cyprus last year despite warnings from Brussels, and fears of a military escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean have mounted after NATO allies Greece and Turkey held naval drills in the area.
Cyprus has been frustrated that some EU countries, including Germany, are reluctant to antagonise Turkey and lean towards dialogue, trade and visa links to calm the situation.
The dispute has brought to a head other tensions, from Turkey’s involvement in Syria and Libya to what the EU says is growing authoritarianism under President Tayyip Erdogan.
EU foreign ministers meeting next Monday will try to find a way through what one senior EU diplomat called “the single most worrying issue for the EU in the coming days”.
A Cypriot diplomat said he had low expectations for any agreement by the leaders on how to deal with Turkey.
“I have serious doubts about having this summit,” the Cypriot diplomat said. “I think it will show the Turks our divisions rather than show them that we are serious about it.”