EUOBSEVER / BRUSSELS - Poland has unilaterally slapped visa sanctions on Belarus officials involved in last month's election crackdown, declining to wait for an EU-level decision due later this month.
A Polish diplomat told EUobserver that the visa ban, which covers Polish territory only, has been put in place following an earlier warning by the Polish foreign ministry on 30 December.
The Polish move is likely to trigger a Belarusian response (Photo: johnnyalive)
He declined to confirm whether or not Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is himself persona non grata. But he said the list numbers "many more" people than the five Belarusian officials on the EU's active visa ban register and the 36 officials on a temporarily-suspended one.
EUobserver understands that Mr Lukashenko is on Warsaw's list and that it numbers "over 100" names.
The Polish move is likely to trigger a Belarusian response.
The country's foreign minister, Sergei Martynov, last week told press in Brussels: "If this decision is actually taken, it would be an unfortunate one and Poland should be ready that we would have to, we must, we will be compelled, we will be forced to reciprocate."
Other pro-visa-ban EU countries, such as Lithuania, Germany, Sweden and the UK, have opted to wait until the union comes up with a joint decision on the issue at a foreign ministers' meeting scheduled for 31 January in Brussels.
"We always prefer to stand by a single EU policy. We are quite successful in moving to such an approach anyway. In the meetings that we have, we hear more or less similar voices," a diplomat from one of the pro-sanctions countries said on the likelihood of a new EU visa ban.
A senior EU diplomat stationed in Minsk told this website that the union is concerned about the state of health of two political detainees: Vladimir Neklyayev, who suffered a severe beating by masked men last month, and hunger striker Mikalai Statkievich.
The Belarusian authorities have declined an EU request to visit detainees and have also denied prisoners access to lawyers and to personal mail, in contravention of international norms.
Belarus says police attacked the crowd on 19 December after it tried to storm a government building in an attempted coup d'etat orchestrated by Germany and Poland.
The EU diplomatic source dismissed this is as propaganda.
"Many witnesses are saying it was agent provocateurs [who tried to raid the government building] and that others joined in ... this is the way we see it," the contact said.
"We don't take it seriously [Belarus' comments on the EU-sponsored coup], except for the fact that it is written like this, that it is a serious attempt at disinformation."