By Monique Dyer
The UK is now the eighth European nation to recall ambassadors from the country, where large scale protests have persisted since the election on August 9, the result of which was allegedly rigged.
Diplomats from Poland and Lithuania were requested to leave by Belarus due to ongoing tensions between the states since the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko accuses both Poland and Lithuania of interfering with Belarusian affairs after they hosted the exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who many believe to be the rightful winner of the election. Both countries have also imposed sanctions on Belarus.
Authorities have responded to protests with violence and thousands have been arrested during the months of unrest. Ms Tikhanovskaya remains in exile while one of the other three women leading the protests against Lukashenko, Maria Kolesnikova, has been detained and charged.
Mr Lukashenko, dubbed ‘Europe’s last dictator’, quickly garnered support from Russian, with Putin pledging to support Belarus with his own law-enforcers should the need arise. Russia’s top officials, including it’s Prime Minister and Finance Minister, have also flown to Minsk to discuss an economic rescue package, further cementing Russia’s support.
Both Poland and Lithuania initially refused to withdraw the majority of their diplomatic core. However, they have since recalled their ambassadors to Belarus in the hope of reducing tensions and encouraging political dialogue.
Towards the end of September, the UK along with Canada imposed sanctions on Belarus in response to what the Foreign Office called “rigged elections”, and to the government’s alleged human rights abuses. The European Union followed suit not long after.
The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, announced on Friday that the UK “condemns Belarus’ decision to expel Polish & Lithuanian diplomats. Completely unjustified and will only isolate the Belarusian people. In solidarity, we are temporarily recalling our Ambassador for consultations on the situation in Belarus.”
Seven other European countries, including Germany, Romania, Latvia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, have also withdrawn their ambassadors.
What next for Belarus?
Protests across Belarus have continued in vast numbers despite the Government’s crackdown. Sanctions imposed on Belarus by the UK and other European nations have sent a clear message of condemnation of President Lukashenko’s behaviour.
Tikhanovskaya continues her demand for the President to resign and release his political prisoners, urging peaceful protests to continue. On Tuesday, August 13, Tikhanovskaya threatened that if Lukashenko does not stand down by October 25 there will be a nationwide strike: “On 26 October all enterprises will begin a strike, all roads will be blocked, state-owned stores will no longer have any sales”