Aug 9, 2021 - World

Belarus faces flood of new sanctions on anniversary of rigged election

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaking in Minsk on Aug. 9.
Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko speaking in Minsk on Aug. 9. Photo: Nikolai Petrov\TASS via Getty Images

The U.S., U.K. and Canada imposed an array of new sanctions against Belarus on Monday, the first anniversary of a fraudulent election that triggered a national protest movement and a brutal crackdown by the country's authoritarian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Why it matters: Previous Western sanctions have so far done little to influence Lukashenko's behavior as he clings to power — with the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin — by jailing his political opponents, arresting journalists and publicly attacking those who criticize his regime.

  • The new sanctions target the country's potash, oil and tobacco exports, its defense, transportation and construction sectors, and several prominent business leaders.
  • The sanctions are designed to increase pressure on Lukashenko's regime while reducing consequences for Belarus' wider population.

What they're saying: "Rather than respect the clear will of the Belarusian people, the Lukashenka regime perpetrated election fraud, followed by a brutal campaign of repression to stifle dissent," President Biden said in a statement.

  • "From detaining thousands of peaceful protesters, to imprisoning more than 500 activists, civil society leaders, and journalists as political prisoners, to forcing the diversion of an international flight in an affront to global norms, the actions of the Lukashenka regime are an illegitimate effort to hold on to power at any price," he added.

The other side: "You are America's lapdogs," a furious Lukashenko responded on Monday when asked about the U.K.'s sanctions, telling London they can "choke on them," according to Reuters.

The big picture: The U.S. and several other countries no longer recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus following the blatantly rigged election, in which he claimed to have won a landslide victory over pro-democracy opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

  • Lukashenko maintains that he won the election fairly and that his crackdown on the opposition is his attempt to defend Belarus against a plotted coup, according to Reuters.
  • His security forces have detained hundreds of protesters and opposition activists. In May, Belarusian agents were accused of calling in a fake bomb threat to divert a Ryanair plane carrying an opposition activist, who was subsequently arrested.
  • Lukashenko's regime received widespread criticism during the Tokyo Olympics when a Belarusian sprinter said she feared for her safety after she was ordered to return home following her criticism of Belarusian coaches. She defected and received asylum in Poland.

Biden met in July with Tsikhanouskaya, who was forced to flee to Lithuania after the post-election crackdown last year. During their meeting, Tsikhanouskaya gave the president a list of targets that she believed should be sanctioned, according to CNN.

  • "We appreciate the decision of [the U.S.] to expand sanctions against Lukashenka's regime," Tsikhanouskaya tweeted Monday.
  • "Though sanctions are not a silver bullet, they are designed to push the regime towards dialogue and stop its impunity. Thankful to the US for the principled position and support of Belarusians."
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