Belarus orders EU ambassador to leave in wake of sanctions


BELARUS HAS asked the ambassadors of the European Union and Poland to leave the country after the EU extended sanctions against officials loyal to authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko.

Minsk also recalled its envoys from Brussels and Warsaw in response to the EU’s decision to freeze assets held in member states by 21 Belarusian judges and senior police officers and to deny them visas for travel to the bloc.

More than 200 officials in Mr Lukashenko’s regime are now barred from entering the EU as it raises pressure on Belarus’s leader to free political prisoners and end a crackdown on opposition parties and independent media.

“It has been suggested that the head of the EU delegation to Belarus and the ambassador of Poland to Belarus return to their capitals for consultations to communicate to their leadership the firm position of the Belarusian side that pressure and sanctions are unacceptable,” foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh said.

Minsk would also ban EU officials responsible for imposing the sanctions from entering Belarus, he added, while stressing Belarus would never bow to EU pressure.

“We have several times at all levels explained the pointlessness of this policy in regard to Belarus . . . If pressure continues to be exerted on Belarus, more measures will be taken to defend our interests,” Mr Savinykh said.

Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt responded on Twitter: “Lukashenko throws out ambassadors of EU and Poland. Dictator starts burning the last bridges. Normally does not end well.”

The EU has tried for years to persuade Mr Lukashenko (57) to loosen his stranglehold on Belarus and to move away from ally Moscow and closer to Brussels.

Mr Lukashenko has repeatedly raised EU hopes he was ready for reform, before each time deciding to stay close to Moscow. Russia values Belarus as a buffer from the EU and Nato, covets some of Mr Lukashenko’s industrial assets and offers him cheap energy while keeping silent on the rights abuses critics say are rife in his country.

The EU’s decision to expand its Belarusian “blacklist” came only after Slovenia staunchly blocked moves to impose sanctions on Yuri Chizh, a wealthy businessman with close links to Mr Lukashenko.

A Slovenian firm recently secured a €100 million contract to build a new Kempinski hotel in Minsk from a firm believed to be controlled by Mr Chizh. Slovenian diplomats insisted they supported sanctions against Mr Lukashenko’s allies, but objected to Mr Chizh being the only businessman targeted by the latest measures.

Several other EU diplomats expressed disgust at what were perceived to be Slovenia’s efforts to protect Mr Chizh and its own economic interests. “Hope guests at the Kempinski, Minsk, will spare a thought for the Belarus political prisoners who rot in jail so that they are comfortable,” Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter.