The European Union will lift nearly all of its sanctions against Belarus, saying Minsk has managed to “improve its human rights record.”
The EU said in a statement on Thursday that it would now end asset freeze and travel ban against 170 individuals, including President Alexander Lukashenko, and three entities in Belarus.
The statement said EU foreign ministers agreed to end the sanctions during a meeting earlier this month. It said the decision came after Lukashenko released the last political prisoners and held an “acceptable” presidential election in October 2015—which was won by Lukashenko with 83 percent of the vote.
The EU said, however, that some sanctions will remain in place for one more year, including those against “four people listed in connection with the unresolved disappearances of two opposition politicians, one businessman and one journalist.”
Another long-standing arms embargo on Minsk would also be maintained for another year, the statement said.
It said EU foreign ministers had hailed in their meeting the release of prisoners as a “long sought step” which together with the October vote created “an opportunity for EU–Belarus relations to develop on a more positive agenda.”
Reports from Brussels at the time showed that some EU members had reservations about sanction relief. However, the decision emerged after ministers reached the conclusion that dropping sanctions was the best option for monitoring the human rights situation.
The decision is also reportedly rooted in efforts by Lukashenko to mediate between warring sides of the conflict in Ukraine, including his hosting a series of meetings that led to a shaky peace deal in February 2014.
Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994.