Belarus has threatened to retaliate after the US, UK and other Western countries introduced a new round of sanctions against its government’s human rights abuses and orchestrating a migration crisis to the border with Europe.
“The objective of all this policy is to strangle Belarus economically”, declared the Belarusian foreign ministry on Friday, while the authoritarian leader of the country, Alexandre Lukashenko, qualified the pressure of “without precedent”.
The Foreign Ministry said there would be “tough, asymmetrical but appropriate measures” in response. Officials did not say what the measures would be.
Belarus has already shown its readiness to go to extremes in its growing diplomatic stalemate with Western countries. Lukashenko is accused of encouraging thousands of people from the Middle East to enter Europe via Belarus in retaliation for earlier sanctions linked to his efforts to stop and punish his national opposition.
The migration crisis eased somewhat as Belarus began removing asylum seekers from the border, sending hundreds on flights to Iraq and accommodating more than 1,000 people in a logistics warehouse where the conditions are extremely basic.
Yet Poland reported 46 border crossing attempts on Friday, including what it called “violent” attempts near two border guard posts. Belarusian forces have been accused of guiding people to the border and cutting off border defenses. Polish troops have been accused of beating and mistreating people who crossed the border.
Rights groups have slammed the European Commission after proposing that three countries sharing a border with Belarus be allowed to detain people in special asylum processing centers for up to 16 weeks, up from four currently in the maximum.
Western governments had vowed to sanction Minsk, but the intransigent reactions of Belarusian border states to migrants and refugees exacerbated tensions within the economic bloc.
The EU sanctions targeted state airline Belavia, Syrian airline Cham Wings, Minsk hotels and travel agencies as part of a targeted punishment against the organizations that allowed the movement of thousands of people from Iraq, Syria and other countries to Europe on a route known as the “Belarus Route”.
“We again demand that the Lukashenko regime immediately and completely stop orchestrating irregular migration across its borders with the EU,” the EU, UK, US and Canada said in a statement. joint press release. “Those in Belarus or in third countries facilitating the illegal crossing of the EU’s external borders should know that this comes at a substantial cost. “
In its fifth round of sanctions, the UK sanctioned eight Belarusian officials and imposed an asset freeze on Belaruskali, a state-run potash fertilizer, in an attempt to “target a major source of income and foreign exchange for the Lukashenko regime ”.
The United States has targeted 20 individuals, 12 entities, blocked three planes and imposed restrictions on the holding of Belarusian sovereign debt with maturities greater than 90 days.
The economic sanctions also targeted the state-owned tourism company Tsentrkurort, a freight carrier accused of shipping thousands of tons of ammunition and weapons to conflict areas such as Libya, and Belarusian defense and defense companies. of potash.
The United States also sanctioned Lukashenko’s second son, Dmitry.