A New Wave of Repression in Belarus Provokes Negative Reaction of the West
Harassment and detentions of human rights activists, independent journalists and representatives of NGOs have triggered another round of Western condemnation of the Lukashenka regime. Meanwhile, Lithuania is experiencing a crisis in border crossings by illegal migrants and has called on the EU and the United States to increase pressure on Minsk.
On July 14th, reacting to raids and searches directed at the Belarusian human rights community, the EU and member states (in particular, the Baltic States, Denmark, Sweden) condemned the actions of the Belarusian regime, joined by the United Kingdom and the United States. The office of Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, stated that “the EU is ready to consider further restrictive measures in line with its gradual approach”
On the same day, five more countries (North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Iceland and Norway) joined the 4th package of European Union sanctions against Belarus. Given that the critical component of the sanctions package relates to petroleum product exports, the addition of these countries is more symbolic than material. However, the Belarusian economy still stands to lose approximately $1.8Bn in export income from the EU and UK, amounting to 6.4% of total exports.
Last week, the flow of illegal migrants across the Belarusian-Lithuanian border continued to rise. On July 13th, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė stated Belarusian promotion of illegal migration, coming on the eve of the Belarusian-Russian “West-2021” military exercises, constitutes a threat to Lithuanian national security. Further to this, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, speaking on July 16th at an online discussion of the Atlantic Council, called on the EU and the United States to increase pressure on the “illegal regime” in Belarus. In apparent solidarity with their Lithuanian neighbour, Estonia reversed its previous appointment of a new ambassador to Minsk, as such a step would constitute implicit recognition of the Lukashenka regime.
There is a clear trajectory of deepening conflict between Minsk and the West. EU sanctions are intended to undermine the economic base of the regime, the effects of which will take time and cannot be expected to prompt immediate positive change in the behaviour of the Belarusian regime. The backlash against NGOs is linked to the imposition of sanctions for reasons inherent to the regime’s nature and natural dynamics of a sanctions’ spiral. The escalation of asymmetric retaliation against Lithuania is likely to be due to it being an active target after granting limited official recognition to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s office.
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Situation in Belarus