The European Union is threatening new measures against authoritarian Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka as protesters in the region mark the one-year anniversary of his reelection in a vote that opposition leaders and others say was rigged.
"The EU stands ready to consider further measures in light of the regime’s blatant disregard of international commitments," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on August 8.
Lukashenka’s reelection claim has been dismissed by the opposition and the West, which has slapped multiple rounds of sanctions to pressure Lukashenka's regime to ease a subsequent crackdown on protesters, talk with the opposition, and ensure a new, independent election
Belarusian authorities have forcibly expelled or jailed opposition leaders, arrested tens of thousands of people, targeted dozens of NGOs, and refused accreditation to or forced out journalists since the crackdown on massive street protests began.
Lukashenka has earned the nickname of “Europe’s last dictator” in the West for his relentless repression of dissent, including the forced diversion in May of a Ryanair commercial flight to Belarus to arrest an opposition blogger and the man’s girlfriend.
The anniversary comes as hundreds of people marched in neighboring Poland to protest political repression in Belarus and the disputed election.
Many Belarusians living in exile in Poland joined the demonstration in which people carried the Belarusian opposition’s red-and-white flag and chanted “Long live Belarus!” Belarusians also marched in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, to show solidarity and to commemorate the death of Belarusian activist Vital Shyshou, who was found hanged in a park in Kyiv after he was reported missing on August 2.
Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine are hosting a number of Belarusians living in exile. One of the most recent to arrive in Poland is Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, an athlete who was granted a humanitarian visa after she refused her coaches’ orders that she return to Minsk after she publicly criticized their decisions.
EU official Borrell said that with the "forced and unlawful" landing of the Ryanair flight in May and the instrumentalization of migrants for political purposes, the regime has "further challenged international norms."
Borrell was referring to the fact that more than 2,000 illegal crossings were registered at the border of EU member Lithuania with Belarus in July alone.
Lukashenka had threatened to allow people from countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria to cross the border in response to the EU sanctions.
The EU no longer recognizes Lukashenka as president and has already imposed sanctions in response to heightened repression in Belarus.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenka’s opponent in the election, claims victory in the 2020 vote and has called for greater pressure on Minsk.
"At the moment, nobody can feel safe, including me," the 38-year-old Tsikhanouskaya told dpa from exile in Lithuania.
Late on August 8, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas vowed to support Belarus’s democracy movement, saying the whole country was being held "hostage" by Lukashenka.
"Alongside political support, we have launched practical assistance with our Belarus civil society action plan to support people who are being politically persecuted," Maas said.
"Germany and the European Union stand by the people of Belarus who are fighting for respect for fundamental democratic and human rights values," he added.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, dpa, AP, and Reuters