By William Stroupe
The European Union has lifted sanctions against 170 individuals and 3 companies in Belarus on February 25 in recognition of the country’s progress on human rights. Included among those who benefit from removal of travel restrictions and asset freezes is President Aleksandr Lukashenko, widely known as “Europe’s last dictator.” The EU established the sanctions regime in 2004 following fraudulent elections which kept Lukashenko and his supporters in office. The regime has fluctuated—mostly expanding—over the last decade. The state sanctions were finally lifted in response to the release of all political prisoners in 2015. However, both Lukashenko and the EU have been making modest progress toward warmer ties in the wake of a Russian regime which has become increasingly aggressive and unpredictable militarily as well as politically and economically. The EU has said its arms embargo will remain in effect along with sanctions on four individuals accused of involvement in the disappearance of opposition politicians.