Lukashenko has ‘overstepped many red lines’ says EU foreign affairs chief

Josep Borrell’s comments come as the Belarusian regime continues to crack down on the opposition protest movement disputing President Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election in 2020.
Alamy: Alexander Lukashenko

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

09 Jun 2021

The High Representative’s comments on Tuesday coincide with Lukashenko this week signing a law tightening sanctions against protesters who take part in unauthorised rallies.

The new legislation also increases the penalties for those found guilty of ‘extremism’ in Belarus.

The EU has responded to the recent hijack by Belarus of a Ryanair plane by banning Belarusian planes from the EU air space and saying that EU planes are not to fly over the Belarus airspace.

Borrell debated the crisis with MEPs at the Strasbourg plenary on Tuesday and heard calls from many members for much tougher EU action against the regime.

Borrell, a former MEP from Spain, told members, “This is the right moment to speak about Belarus and the continuing repression by the Lukashenko regime because human rights violations have continued unabated for one year.”

“The plane hijack jeopardised the security of its 100 passengers but was also a challenge to international rules. The subsequent arrest and forced confession of an opposition leader was an abhorrent act and his forced confession on TV was a shameful image.”

Borrell said the EU’s recent package of economic support for civil society in Belarus “shows we stand with its people and will do so in the future.”

“This is the right moment to speak about Belarus and the continuing repression by the Lukashenko regime because human rights violations have continued unabated for one year” Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU

Polish Socialist member Robert Biedroń told the plenary, “This regime is guilty of putting even children in jail. We now see Lukashenko for what he is: the last dictator in Europe still standing. He is trying to build a new North Korea so the EU must get its act together and send a clear signal to Belarus.”

ECR foreign affairs coordinator Anna Fotyga called Lukashenko an “illegitimate, illegal” leader who had “increased his grip and commits violence and atrocities against his own country every day.”

“Unfortunately, this continues and we have to react to it” said Fotyga, also an ex-Foreign Minister of Poland.

“We see collaboration between dictators Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko in all of this. In particular, my country Poland, and our neighbour Lithuania, are targets of what I clearly see as elements of hybrid warfare perpetrated by Lukashenko against us.”

Helmut Scholz, a German member of The Left, told members, “Lukashenko stops at nothing and is undermining Belarus society. The EU needs to rethink its policy towards Belarus as sanctions just hurt its people.”

EPP member Sandra Kalniete said her group supports the proposal of the exiled Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya to initiate an international summit on the crisis in Belarus.

Kalniete said, “Such a summit should take place without delay under the leadership of the EU. As the EPP we already attempted to organise a high-level mediation mission to the country in order to explore every possible way to stop the violence, free political prisoners and help create conditions for political dialogue in the country.”

“We now see Lukashenko for what he is: the last dictator in Europe still standing. He is trying to build a new North Korea so the EU must get its act together and send a clear signal to Belarus” Robert Biedroń, S&D

“Regrettably, the initiative was blocked. Those political parties in the European Parliament, which receive Russian money in exchange for political support for Russian policies, bear moral responsibility for letting Belarusians suffer and die just at the EU’s front door.”

Kalniete stressed the need to further step up the EU’s response to the crimes perpetrated by the Lukashenko regime in Minsk, adding, “We call for the establishment of an international tribunal to prosecute Alexander Lukashenko and his henchmen who waged war against Belarusians.”

Renew Europe MEP, Petras Auštrevičius, Parliament’s standing rapporteur on Belarus, added, “We must justify the expectations of the Belarusian people towards the EU and contain the Lukashenka regime by imposing broad sectorial sanctions.”

“In addition, the EU should initiate and host a high-level conference on the future of a democratic Belarus, not only pledging, but providing real-time support to the democratic civil society of Belarus.”

His group has called for the unconditional release of journalist Raman Pratasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega and for the adoption of sanctions on individuals and entities involved in the plane hijacking and their detention.

MEPs will vote on a resolution on Belarus on Thursday.

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