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Belarus to become first state to leave EU’s Eastern Partnership, Minsk will recall envoy & cut ties in face of Brussels’ sanctions

Belarus to become first state to leave EU’s Eastern Partnership, Minsk will recall envoy & cut ties in face of Brussels’ sanctions
After months of escalating political tensions, Belarus has announced that it will unilaterally withdraw from a scheme designed to bring former Soviet states closer to the EU. Minsk will also call home its ambassador from Brussels.

The bloc’s envoy in the Belarusian caporal, Dirk Schuebel, was summoned to the foreign ministry on Monday where he was told that Minsk believes it has no other choice but to respond to EU “actions that threaten the national security of Belarus and deliver direct harm to its economy and citizens.”

On Friday, Brussels introduced sectoral sanctions against several key sectors of country's economy, including petroleum products, potash fertilizers and tobacco goods, over what it called “serious human rights violations” and the “violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition, and journalists.”

EU members have long been critical of Minsk over its crackdown on anti-government protests, which began after long-time president Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of last year’s presidential election. It's widely believed that the results were falsified. The forced grounding by Belarus of a flight operated by Ireland's Ryanair last month further justified the new restrictions, according to Brussels. Opposition blogger Roman Protasevich was arrested when the plane landed, along with this girlfriend, Sofia Sapega – who is a Russian citizen.

Also on rt.com EU imposes sanctions on vital sectors of Belarus’ industry as bloc responds to what it deems ‘serious human rights violations’

As part of its retaliatory steps, Minsk will halt its participation in the Eastern Partnership initiative, launched in 2009 to extend the EU's influence in the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Belarus' Ministry of Foreign Affairs also said that Minsk is “initiating the procedure of suspending” its visa facilitation and readmission agreement with Brussels. The deal, signed by both sides last summer, made it easier for Belarusians to enter the bloc, while also establishing procedures for the safe and orderly return of persons who are illegally present in the EU or Belarus.

"The suspension of the agreement will negatively affect the cooperation with the EU in the field of tackling illegal migration and organized crime," the ministry regretted.

Minsk's envoy to the EU, Alexander Mikhnevich, had already been recalled from Brussels for "consultations" amid the spike in tensions.

Also on rt.com ‘Heir of Nazis’: Belarus’ Lukashenko blasts German foreign minister over call for sanctions on eve of Hitler invasion anniversary

Belarus is also planning to ban entry to EU officials who it deems helped to facilitate the introduction of the restrictions against the country. “The use of sanctions as a tool to pressure a sovereign and independent state is totally unacceptable,” the ministry insisted.

Minsk is working on other measures in response to the EU sanctions, including some of an economic nature, it added.

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