Belarus

Europe, US, UK, Canada sanction Belarus over flight diversion

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya poses for a picture, as she takes part in the European Union foreign ministers meeting, in Luxembourg, June 21, 2021.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya poses for a picture, as she takes part in the European Union foreign ministers meeting, in Luxembourg, June 21, 2021. REUTERS - JOHANNA GERON

The European Union, the United States, Britain and Canada jointly slapped sanctions on several senior officials in Belarus in the wake of the forced diversion to Minsk of a passenger plane travelling between two EU countries last month.

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The European Council said in a statement that it had "decided to impose restrictive measures against 78 Belarusian individuals and eight entities". This decision was taken "in view of the escalation of serious human rights violations in Belarus and the violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition and journalists". 

The sanctions, the latest in a series imposed after Belarus fighter jets in May forced a Ryanair plane, flying over Belarussian territory on route to Lithuania from Greece, to land at Minsk.  Exiled opposition activist Roman Protasevich, who was on board the Ryanair flight, was arrested and detained. 

It is annoying that when Belarussians were dying and tortured and beaten, there were no serious reactions. Only after the lives of European and American citizens were endangered by this plane hijacking, they started to react.

PODCAST Andrei Sannikov, former Belarus presidential candidate and opposition leader-in-exile reacts to the sanctions.
PODCAST Andrei Sannikov, former Belarus presidential candidate and opposition leader, reacts to the sanctions.

The latest asset freezes and travel bans are part of the fourth package of EU sanctions imposed on a number of officials linked to the security crackdown that continues to rock the country some 10 months after President Alexander Lukashenko returned to power in elections branded by the EU and other observers as “fraudulent”.

Political prisoners

The EU, the US, the UK and Canada called on Minsk to cooperate with an international probe into the Ryanair incident, immediately release all political prisoners and “enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue” with the democratic opposition and civil society.

Former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, currently coordinator for the European-Belarus Civil Campaign said he "of course welcomes the sanctions."

But he told RFI that they came "a bit late. Because if these sanctions were introduced last year, we would not have seen Lukashenko today." In 2020, the main contender for the Belarus presidency, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, fled to Lithuania after disputed elections.

Tsikhanouskaya also welcomed the new measures, saying that “the EU and the entire civilised world have set a goal to stop Lukashenko and the escalation of violence.

“The EU sanctions would raise not only external, but also internal pressure on Lukashenko ... and will make it more costly for his main sponsor, the Kremlin, to maintain the Belarusian regime,” she said.

Tsikhanouskaya said the Ryanair incident shows that “Lukashenko’s regime has become a threat not only to citizens of Belarus but also to international security.”

Sannikov himself was a presidential candidate during the 2010 elections. He won the second highest percentage of the popular votes after Lukashenko but was incarcerated in the KGB facility in Minsk after peacefully protesting at a post-election demonstration. He was subsequently beaten by police, tortured, and held incommunicado for two months.

No serious reactions

"It is little bit annoying that when Belarussians were being tortured and beaten, there were no serious reactions (from the west). It was modus vivendi with the dictatorial regime. Only after the lives of European and American citizens were endangered by this state terrorism act, of  state the hijacking of plane then they started to react.

Meanwhile, the Belarus Foreign Ministry expressed its anger at the coordinated sanctions on Tuesday, saying that "we have repeatedly stated that sanctions negatively affect the interests of citizens, they are counterproductive and vicious. But deliberate, destructive actions against the population are being continued in order to 'drain the regime financially'."

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