BRUSSELS — In an embarrassing about-face, Cyprus' government pulled back a demand for sanctions on Turkey, allowing the European Union to hit Belarus with penalties, but not President Alexander Lukashenko for fixing his own re-election.
The sanctions affect dozens of senior officials in Belarus accused of falsifying that country's election in which Lukashenko claimed victory despite criticism from the EU it was rigged, but he remains untouched while jailing protesters.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said he would veto sanctions on Belarus unless the EU imposed stronger measures on Turkey for drilling in the island's waters for oil and gas.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan got his way again with EU leaders reluctant to confront him, fearful he will unleash on the bloc through Greece more refugees and migrants who went to his country fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands.
He has already been defying soft sanctions for the Cyprus drilling and while Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis also demanded sanctions for Turkey planning to drill off Greek islands, he wouldn't support Cyprus' call, leaving Anastasiades isolated and squeezed to concede.
Cyprus was left only with EU promises to warn Erdogan again, a tactic that has repeatedly failed and seemed only to embolden him, European Council President Charles Michel saying that opened the door for Belarus sanctions.
“We have to decided today to implement the sanctions," he told reporters after chairing the summit in Brussels. “It’s very important to do what we decided a few weeks ago,” and to send a signal that “we are credible.”
Michel said Lukashenko "is not on the current list. But we will follow the developments," referring to people being beaten, jailed, kidnapped and some said to be killed.
The leader once dubbed Europe’s last dictator could be added to the list at a later date, should he refuse to enter into talks with the opposition, EU diplomats have said, a threat the EU has often used only to fail to follow up.
The political row has tarnished the EU’s image. It is also unusual in that all 27 EU member countries, including Cyprus, reject the result of the Aug. 9 election that returned Lukashenko to power for a sixth term. They all want a new election and agree that sanctions should be slapped on several officials.
Ahead of the summit, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said “it is bad that we cannot make it work.”
Throughout the night, the leaders debated what approach to take in the EU’s increasingly tense ties with Turkey over its drilling in the Mediterranean Sea, its roles in the conflicts in Libya and Syria, and as a sometimes troublesome source of migrants trying to reach Europe.
WHAT TO DO?
In a press release they issued to avoid talking to reporters as they continued to waffle, they agreed that if Turkey reacts positively in talks with Cyprus and Greece – apparently even while going ahead with drilling plan – that Erdogan will be rewarded.
That would include trade and customs incentives, and they held out the prospect of more money and benefits if he keeps refugees and migrants contained, opening the door for Turkey to get another 3 billion euros ($3.52 billion.)
But otherwise they warned – once again – “The EU will use all the instruments and the options at its disposal,” to “defend its interests and those of its Member States.”
“It is now Turkey that has to prove that it wants to go the constructive road with us, and this is the offer tonight. But we are very clear that in the opposite case we have all necessary tools at our disposal,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said that “solidarity is non-negotiable” when it comes to Cyprus, but also to Greece in its long-running dispute with Turkey but he wouldn't back Cyprus' call for stronger sanctions.
“When a European Union member state is attacked, threatened, when its territorial waters are not respected, it’s the duty of Europeans to show their solidarity,” Macron said, but he wouldn't.
As it turned out, Cyprus was making its stand at a summit that came on the 60th anniversary of its independence before Anastasiades caved in to pressure not to block Belarus sanctions, which he said he wouldn't d.
In a televised address to the nation, Anastasiades expressed his “sincere gratitude to all European Union member states for their staunch support and solidarity in light of Turkey’s provocations,” even though he didn't get it.
While saying the EU was behind him all the way he said he wanted the bloc to take “a more tangible and effective stance to bring about an end to gunboat diplomacy and for the crisis to be succeeded by dialogue or recourse to the international court on the basis of international law and the law of the sea.”
Erdogan said whatever the outcome of the meeting with the EU he would continue to have his ships drill off Cyprus and Greece, walking away with another win.
In Ankara, meanwhile, Erdogan described his country’s operations in the eastern Mediterranean its most important “naval struggle of the past few centuries.”
During a speech in Parliament, Erdogan said the EU had turned into an “ineffective, horizonless and shallow” structure and become a “slave to the conceit” of Greece and Cyprus.
He also said that Turkey is committed to resolving disputes through dialogue although he earlier said that would be based on Greece making concessions and without mentioning Cyprus, which Turkey doesn't recognize and bars its ships and planes.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)