The EU and US have instated tough sanctions on Belarus’ leadership following the controversial re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko last December.
The European Union has renewed a travel ban originally imposed in 1998, whilst the US bolstered its existing sanctions with stricter financial regulations.
The controversial leader, who is often labelled the last dictator in Europe, could not leave the country under the previous ruling; the travel ban has now however been widened to encompass 157 of his associates.
Additionally they have ordered that all of their assets to be frozen. The US has reportedly moved to revoke temporary authorization for business deals with two subsidiaries of the state owned conglomerate Belneftekhim, the country’s largest provider of petroleum and chemicals.
These measures are issued in response to the crackdown on dissenters undertaken by the Belarus leadership following the re-election of Lukashenko in December, an election which has been found as rigged by international monitors. More than 600 people were detained, including seven of the rival candidates. Four presidential candidates are due to stand trial next month, and face up to 15 years in prison.
Candidates have had their houses raided by officers from an organisation still referred to in Belarus as the KGB.
Belarus’ Foreign Minister issued a statement in which he accused the EU of a ‘biased and selective’ interpretation of the December elections, in which two presidential candidates were beaten by police despite attempts to make the proceedings appear more transparent. The OSCE – Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe – believed that there were improvements in the running of the election, however it still recognisedthe result as flawed.
The sanctions have followed in a string of criticisms against the incumbent President Lukashenko, who has been reigning in power since 1994. In the run up to their elections the Russian media widely attacked the President’s methods, as did the Russian President, Dmitry Mendvedev.
On February 3, dozens of governments pledged $120 million in aid to opposition groups, and Poland’s foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski made vocal his belief that Lukashenko will be ousted from power by an angry populace. The U.S. will boost funding to $30 million; Poland will double its aid to $14.8 million; and the EU’s assistance will quadruple to $21 million.
Since 2008 the European nations have tried to bring Belarus back into harmony with the EU’s policies, and the USA’s Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 was signed by George W. Bush in order to help the country on its path to democracy. In light of the crackdown, the slackened sanctions have now been tightened.