Saturday May 29th 2021
Putin strengthens Lukashenko
USA imposes sanctions on Belarus
The affair surrounding the arrest of a Belarusian critic of the regime has further consequences. After the EU, the US is also reacting with punitive measures that affect those in power, Lukashenko, among others. He seeks help from his last great ally.
After the forced landing of a passenger plane in Minsk and the arrest of government critic Roman Protassevich, the US announced sanctions against Belarus. The punitive measures affect nine Belarusian state-owned companies as well as high-ranking officials in the vicinity of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, said the press spokeswoman for the White House, Jen Psaki. The EU had previously decided to sanction the leadership in Minsk because of the incident.
Psaki described the forced diversion of the Ryanair plane to Minsk last Sunday and the arrest of Protassevich as a “direct attack on international standards”. The imposition of additional sanctions against Belarus is not ruled out, she added.
Belarus urged the passenger plane on its way from Athens to Vilnius to make a stopover in Minsk on Sunday, citing an alleged bomb threat. Subsequently, the journalist and government critic Protassevich, sitting in the machine, and his partner Sofia Sapega were arrested. Protassewitsch lived in exile, including in Lithuania.
In response to the incident, the EU heads of state and government agreed on further sanctions against Belarus at their summit on Monday. These include blocking European airspace for aircraft from Belarus, sanctions against those responsible for the incident and economic sanctions. This should now be implemented in the coming weeks.
Tensions between Minsk and the West had already deepened after the presidential election in Belarus last August, which was overshadowed by massive allegations of fraud. After the presidential election there were unprecedented mass protests in Belarus, which Lukashenko brutally suppressed.
Putin stands behind Lukashenko
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin backed the Lukashenko affair. At a meeting in the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi on Friday, Putin Lukashenko agreed that the West’s “emotional” reaction to the incident had been exaggerated. Lukashenko accused the West of wanting to destabilize his country.
Putin compared the Ryanair incident with the stopover of the plane of then Bolivian President Evo Morales in Vienna in 2013. At that time the West was not outraged, Putin said. “The president was taken off the plane and nothing: silence,” he said at the beginning of the meeting with Lukashenko.
Morales was on his way back from Moscow at the time. The unscheduled stopover of his plane in Vienna had fueled speculation that the former US secret service employee Edward Snowden had been on board the plane and that it had therefore been rerouted.
The last strong ally
The conversation between Lukashenko and Putin lasted more than five hours; the result of the interview was not disclosed. At the beginning of the meeting, however, both politicians had emphasized the close bilateral relations between their countries. Belarus and Russia were working to build a “union,” Putin said. “We are moving in this direction with confidence and this work is already bringing tangible results to our citizens,” he added. Within the framework of the Russian-Belarusian Union, Moscow and Minsk cooperate in the economic and defense sector. The Kremlin has long insisted on greater integration between the two states.
Putin is considered to be Lukashenko’s last strong ally. It is true that the relationship between the Belarusian ruler and the Kremlin has been highly volatile in recent years. In view of the considerable tensions with the West, Lukashenko has recently increasingly sought proximity to Moscow. He has met with Putin several times since the controversial presidential election last August.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned Lukashenko on Friday that democratic change in Belarus was only a matter of time: “No amount of repression, brutality or coercion” will give Lukashenko’s “authoritarian regime any legitimacy,” she said. The EU Commission promised the population in Belarus an economic package worth three billion euros if the country embarks on a democratic course.