Sun, 23 Jan 2022

LONDON, England: The United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and Canada have agreed to tackle the ongoing migrant crisis on the border with Poland, along with the political repression and human rights violations committed by the Lukashenko regime in Belarus.

Belarus's longtime strongman Alexander Lukashenko has been accused of using "innocent migrants as a political weapon, as an effort at destabilization," in the words of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Belarus has also been accused of carrying out a campaign of repression against the country's activists, dissidents and journalists.

"We remain committed to supporting the democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus, and stand together to impose costs on the regime -- and those who support it -- for its efforts to silence the voices of independent civil society, media, and all Belarusians seeking to speak the truth about what is happening in their country," the four nations said in a joint statement.

The sanctions also come at a time of heightened tension between Moscow -- the Lukashenko regime's strongest backer -- and much of the West, as Russian President Vladimir Putin amasses troops on the border with Ukraine.

In their joint statement, the U.S., Canada, UK, and EU demanded that the Lukashenko "immediately and completely halt its orchestrating of irregular migration across its borders with the EU."

Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, speaking at the Organization for Security and Co-operation, responded, noting that Belarus has been "punished" by sanctions "only because we have revealed the 'dark side' of European democracy."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury Department has announced that it is "designating 20 individuals and 12 entities, and identifying three aircraft, as blocked property," further sanctioning Belarus's potash industry, and imposing restrictions on dealings with Belarus's sovereign debt.

Among those sanctioned are Belarus's state-owned tourism company, its state-owned cargo carrier, five entities linked to its defense sector, and a number of individuals with close ties to Lukashenko, including his middle son.

"I am very skeptical that sanctions pressure will cause (Lukashenko) to change course. This is about limiting his and his inner circle's ability to act financially. It could undermine his ability to keep the economy stable, which could lead to further domestic unrest," said Julia Friedlander of the Atlantic Council, as reported by CNN.

Kenneth Yalowitz, a former U.S. Ambassador to Belarus and fellow at the Wilson Center, said, "Belarus is going to be more expensive for the Russians to maintain," but both he and Friedlander said it was unlikely Putin would cease his support of Lukashenko over the new sanctions.

"Belarus, for Putin, is just another part of the military equation that he's bringing to bear against Ukraine. So he's not going to jettison Lukashenka now," Yalowitz said, according to CNN.

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