201002 EU Belarus
European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a press conference at an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020. Image Credit: AP

Brussels: EU leaders overcame a diplomatic stalemate on Friday to agree sanctions on Belarus at a summit after a long evening of talks, assuring Cyprus the bloc would stand firm on Turkey for its oil and gas drilling in the Mediterranean.

The agreement to sanction some 40 Belarus officials accused of rigging an August 9 presidential election allows the EU to make good on its promise to support pro-democracy protesters in Minsk and regain some credibility after weeks of delays.

“We have unblocked sanctions on Belarus,” a senior EU official said.

Another EU diplomat said: “It’s a decent compromise,” but gave no details.

The EU’s chairman and chief executive were due to give a news conference in the early hours of Friday.

While Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions on Minsk to show support for pro-democracy demonstrations there, the impasse in the 27-nation EU, where decisions are taken by unanimity, has cost the bloc credibility, diplomats say.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, on the day of his island’s 60th anniversary of independence from Britain, had demanded a much tougher stance on Turkey as the price for supporting Belarus sanctions.

He said the EU must send a message that Ankara’s oil and gas exploration along the coast of the Mediterranean island is unacceptable.

Germany pushed back against the imposition of EU sanctions on Turkey, fearing it will disrupt efforts to cool tensions with Greece.

Turkey, both a candidate to join the EU and a member of NATO, has slid towards authoritarianism under President Tayyip Erdogan but remains a strategically located partner that the EU cannot ignore.

In a sign that the diplomatic stand-off is easing at least between Athens and Ankara, NATO announced on Thursday that the two alliance members had set up a “military de-confliction mechanism” to avoid accidental clashes at sea.