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EU Leaders Plan Response to Belarus Crisis and Greece-Turkey Tensions

The bloc could decide to impose sanctions on Belarus, but much hinges on the stance it chooses to take on Turkey.

European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrive for a news conference after a virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrive for a news conference after a virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Brussels, Belgium, on Sep. 14. Yves Herman/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Belarus and Turkey top the agenda as EU leaders meet in Brussels, India struggles with caste-based violence, and an alleged participant of the Rwandan genocide faces extradition.

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Sanctions on Belarus Could Be Forthcoming

EU leaders are set to meet today in Brussels to begin a two-day special summit aimed primarily at untangling the two major crises currently gripping the region—the political upheaval in Belarus and the dispute in the eastern Mediterranean. Attendees will also discuss ongoing issues with China as well as the unfolding conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Sanctions on Belarus. The European Union has been slow to respond to the worsening political crisis in Belarus, in part due to concerns over Russia’s increasingly hostile stance. Weeks after Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in an election that was mired in allegations of fraud, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned EU powers against meddling in Belarus’s internal affairs and went as far as offering Lukashenko military support.

After a secret inaugural ceremony in the Belarusian capital of Minsk last weekend, the EU said it did not recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus, but stopped short of announcing sanctions. A German official told Reuters that the bloc could make a decision on sanctions during the summit.

Going their own way. But this hasn’t stopped some EU member states from unilaterally imposing sanctions. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—the latter of which is current housing exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya—preempted action by the bloc and imposed sanctions on Lukashenko and several other top government officials in August. Belarus responded in kind on Wednesday by imposing retaliatory sanctions.

Intertwined crises. But the EU’s approach to Belarus has also been hampered by the ongoing dispute between Greece and Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus has insisted that it will not support sanctions on Belarus unless Brussels takes similar action against Turkey over its growing assertiveness in the region—a move that the EU is reluctant to make. Last week, Cyprus blocked an attempt by EU ministers to impose sanctions on Lukashenko and several other key government figures.

EU leaders will likely expend considerable effort during this summit to placate Cyprus. Although the bloc is unlikely to impose sanctions on Ankara, it is actively supporting efforts by Greece and Turkey to negotiate an end to their dispute.

What We’re Following Today 

Widening crisis. International powers have traded barbs over the violence gripping the Caucasus as Armenia and Azerbaijan continued their clashes for a fourth day on Wednesday over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. NATO powers have grown increasingly concerned over the involvement of Turkey, which is offering strong words of support to Azerbaijan. During a visit to Latvia, French President Emmanuel Macron said he was concerned about Ankara’s “warlike messages … which essentially remove any of Azerbaijan’s inhibitions in reconquering Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Turkey, which is also a NATO member, has given strong indications that it would support Azerbaijan militarily. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that Turkey would “do what is necessary” if Azerbaijan requested military support. Ankara has already been accused of moving militants from Syria to Azerbaijan.

Anger over caste-based violence in India. Protests have erupted across India after the body of a 19-year-old woman who recently died after a brutal gang rape was cremated without the permission of her family. The woman belonged to the Dalit community, a heavily marginalized group at the bottom of the country’s caste hierarchy, and was allegedly attacked earlier in September by upper caste men in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

The incident has sparked public outrage at the treatment of individuals from lower castes in the country, bringing renewed scrutiny to India’s system of social stratification. Senior opposition leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted that “Uttar Pradesh’s ‘class-specific’ rule of the land has killed another woman. The government said it was fake news and left the victim to die. This unfortunate incident, the death of the victim and the callousness of the government—none of this is fake news.”

More U.S. sanctions on Syria. The United States slapped a new round of sanctions on key Syrian entities and individuals whom it accuses of supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The sanctions are an effort to press Syria to re-engage with U.N.-led efforts at a peaceful resolution to the country’s near-decade long civil war. “The United States will continue to employ all of its tools and authorities to target the finances of anyone who profits from or facilitates the Assad regime’s abuse of the Syrian people,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Cuba to devalue its currency. The Cuban government is preparing plans to devalue the peso for the first time since the 1959 revolution that brought the communist regime to power as the country reels from its worst economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The economy has come under heavy pressure from the impact of the coronavirus and renewed U.S. sanctions, forcing the government to implement drastic monetary reforms. In addition to the devaluation of the peso, the government also plans to eliminate the convertible peso, a second form of currency used in the country, and to allow Cubans to make purchases in U.S. dollars.

Keep an Eye On 

Iraq promises to protect diplomats. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi pledged to ensure the protection of foreign diplomats in the country and to enforce the state’s monopoly on violence in an apparent response to threats made by the United States to withdraw from its embassy in Baghdad. “Iraq is keen on enforcing the rule of law, the state’s monopoly on having weapons, protecting foreign missions, and diplomatic buildings,” Kadhimi said at a meeting with 25 ambassadors.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Iraqi government that it would close down its embassy if it failed to prevent attacks from rogue militia groups against U.S. interests in the country, sparking concerns that a U.S. diplomatic withdrawal could lead to violence between U.S. forces and Iran-backed militias. But as Shelly Kittleson wrote in Foreign Policy in August, efforts to extend the government’s authority over the country’s vast array of armed groups will be a serious challenge.

Extradition in Rwandan genocide case. France’s top civil court has ruled that Felicien Kabuga can be extradited to a U.N. tribunal in Tanzania to face trial over his alleged involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Kabuga, a former tea tycoon, is accused of bankrolling and importing mass supplies of machetes for use by Hutu militants against ethnic Tutsis during the genocide, which claimed the lives of some 800,000 people over a 100-day period. Kabuga was arrested in France in May following a two-decade-long manhunt that ended in a nondescript apartment in the Paris suburbs. The charges against him include genocide and incitement to commit genocide.

Despite the genocide having ended more than a quarter century ago, the United Nations is still pursuing those that helped perpetrate atrocities in Rwanda. In May 2019, Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch reported on the efforts of one retired U.N. official to secure the prosecution of Callixte Mbarushimana, a fellow retired U.N. official, who allegedly oversaw the murder of 32 people during the genocide.

Odds and Ends

Several underlying factors can make an individual more susceptible to contracting COVID-19, including, as it turns out, sharing some genes with prehistoric Neanderthals. Scientists in Sweden and Germany recently claimed that a strand of DNA passed on from Neanderthals to modern humans during a relatively brief overlap in their history some 50,000 years ago triples one’s risk of developing COVID-19. Researchers took the DNA from several patients with severe cases of the disease and compared it to DNA taken from a Neanderthal in Croatia and found that the stretch of DNA that makes individuals more likely to contract serious illness matched.

“I almost fell off my chair because the segment of DNA was exactly the same as in the Neanderthal genome,” said Hugo Zeberg, an assistant professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

That’s it for today. 

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Dan Haverty is a former editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty