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Cyprus Backs EU Sanctions On Belarus - Only if Turkey Included

Αssociated Press

Cyprus foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides speaks with the Associated Press during an interview at his office in Nicosia, Cyprus, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Giorgos Christoforou)

Under fire from other European Union countries for vetoing sanctions against authoritarian Belarus over rigged elections there, Cyprus' beleaguered government said it supports the penalties but that Turkey must be hit too.

Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides told Euronews that Cyprus first wants sanctions imposed on Turkey over what the European Council refers to as Ankara's "unauthorised drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean".

"The Republic of Cyprus supports and does not raise the issue of veto or anything else regarding Belarus," said Christodoulides. "There is no way we are against the adoption of measures against the regime in Belarus."

While Cyprus didn't raise the issue of a veto he did just that to block the sanctions on Belarus that anyway would have exempted 26-year President Alexander Lukashenko, who has reacted to protests against his fixed re-election with a brutal crackdown on demonstrators and journalists.

Turkey has been drilling for oil and gas in waters off Cyprus, the northern third of the island being occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion, Turkey keeping a 35,000-strong army there.

The EU so far has imposed only soft sanctions on Turkish drilling, against two executives of the state-run petroleum company that has done nothing and exempted Turkish President Recep Tayyip, who ordered it.

Turkey, which has been trying to join the EU since 2005, doesn't recognize Cyprus – which is a member – and bars its ships and planes.

Turkey disputes parts of Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zοne (EEZ) and has been drilling near where the legitimate government has licensed foreign companies to hunt, including those from France, the United States and Italy.

With unanimous consent required from all 27 members of the EU for foreign policy decisions, most get hung up in disputes, leading European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to recommend a majority instead.

Christodoulides though told the news site that,  "What will play the most important role in decision-making should be the European interest and not the national interest of some states.

"If we do not first determine what the EU's interest is, it will be very difficult for Cyprus and many other member states to agree to such a qualified majority decision making on foreign policy decisions."

That would effectively create a stalemate with unanimous consent required to stop EU unanimous consent. The EU summit to discuss possible sanctions on Belarus and Turkey has been postponed to Oct. 1-2.