Finland's Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto (Green) says the post-election turbulence in Belarus was creating a difficult geopolitical situation in the region.
The European Union has been preparing sanctions against officials in Belarus following post-election crackdowns on protesters who are claiming last week’s ballot returning president Alexander Lukashenko to power was fixed.
"It’s a country with ties to the EU and a long-standing relationship with Russia. In this sense the country is in a very central role," Foreign Minister Haavisto told Yle Radio 1 on Monday.
Meeting over video conference last Friday, EU foreign ministers decided to ramp up sanctions against Belarus officials said to be responsible for violence, repression and the alleged falsification of election results.
"We’re now collecting names of those committing violence. These individuals will probably face travel restrictions and asset freezing," Haavisto explained.
Last week Finnish president Sauli Niinistö's office issued a statement saying, "Belarus needs to respect international human rights and citizens’ basic rights, including freedoms of speech and assembly."
Talks with Russia
Yle asked Haavisto what the implications were of Lukashenko engaging in phone conversations with Russian president Vladimir Putin over the weekend.
"Our message is that these matters are in Belarus' own hands. The country has to solve the stand-off resulting from the election," Haavisto said. "Our criticism centres on the elections being neither free nor fair."
The Finnish Foreign Minister said the EU has supported civil society in Belarus civil and that EU states have hosted members of the political opposition. Most recently, Belarus presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya went into exile in Lithuania after denouncing the election result.
Haavisto also noted that some 3,000 students from Belarus are currently studying at universities across Europe through the Erasmus Plus student exchange programme.
"It’s really important to support young people at this point," he said.