Sanctions on Alexander Lukashenko are the first to be implemented by major Western powers over the crisis in Belarus.
The United States has held off on joining the United Kingdom and Canada in imposing sanctions against Belarus, as European Union states try to overcome an internal dispute on how to carry out the penalties.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, three sources on Wednesday told Reuters News Agency that Washington refrained from going ahead with the sanctions because it believed the EU might achieve consensus at the European Council meeting, which starts on Thursday.
Gitanas Nauseda, the president of Lithuania, where Belarus’s main opposition leader is in exile, said he expected that the meeting “will be the tipping point for the decision on sanctions against Belarus authorities.”
The EU promised in August to impose sanctions on Belarus for alleged fraud in its August 9 election and for human rights abuses since, but Cyprus, one of its smallest members, has proved an obstacle.
Cyprus has maintained it will not agree to the Belarusian sanctions unless the EU also puts sanctions on Turkey because of a separate dispute about Turkish drilling for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean.
Six sources told Reuters last week that the UK, Canada and the US planned to impose sanctions on individual Belarusians in a coordinated move, but only London and Ottawa did so.
One source in Washington familiar with the matter told Reuters that a US package, including human rights sanctions, was essentially ready, but the timing of the announcement was uncertain.
The sanctions are a response to the disputed election, which the opposition has said was stolen, and for the treatment of protesters in Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled for 26 years.
More than 12,000 people have been arrested since Lukashenko, who has denied electoral fraud, was named the election’s landslide winner. Major opposition figures are either in jail or have gone into exile.
Among the latest to be arrested was Belarus’s top female basketball player, Yelena Leuchanka, who was detained on Wednesday at an airport and jailed for 15 days for the protests against Lukashenko, according to the AFP news agency.
Leuchanka, a two-time Olympian, was detained at Minsk Airport as she prepared to leave the country to receive treatment abroad.
Meanwhile, a Cyprus source said there was a “political agreement” on Turkish sanctions at an informal EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin in August and Cyprus remained ready to implement it although it was not clear precisely what the source meant.
“It’s not a question of softening or hardening of (Cyprus’) position,” the source told Reuters.
Germany’s foreign ministry said ministers agreed on their “solidarity with Greece and Cyprus” but stressed that constructive dialogue with Turkey was vital to resolve “contentious issues in the eastern Mediterranean”.
In a separate development, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday she would hold talks with Belarus’s main opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, days after French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to help mediate in the Belarus crisis.
In an address to the German parliament, Merkel praised the “courage” of the women who have been leading the demonstrations.