Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko lashed out at the UK today, branding Britain ‘America’s lapdog’ as Westminster joined Washington in imposing fresh sanctions on his regime.
The 66-year-old strongman raged at western journalists at a press conference in Minsk, telling the UK to ‘choke on your sanctions’ before adding: ‘We didn’t know what Britain was for 1,000 years, and we don’t want to know it now.’
He added: “You are risking starting World War III,” he added. “Is that what you are trying to push us and the Russians to?”
Lukashenko, who has served as president of the eastern European country since 1994, was speaking at an event to mark one year since his ‘reelection’.
He also hit out at Olympic defector Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, denied murdering a critic in Ukraine, and insisted he is legitimately elected despite widespread evidence to the contrary.
Alexander Lukashenko branded the UK ‘American lapdogs’ today when asked about fresh sanctions against his regime
He added that demonstrations against him were simply part of a foreign plot to end his rule, and denied that his security services had tortured or beaten political activists – describing all evidence to the contrary as ‘fake’.
Asked about Tsimanouskaya – who fled Belarus’s Olympic team in Tokyo fearing for her safety – Lukashenko said she had been ‘manipulated’ into fleeing by Poland, where she now lives.
He also took a swing at her record, saying: ‘She took 36th place in her discipline – say no more! Why did we include her?’
Separately, he denied ordering the killing of Vitaly Shishov – a Belarusian activist found hanged in a park in Ukraine last week – referring to him as ‘a nobody’.
But his most-barbed comments were saved for a question asked by BBC correspondent Sarah Rainsford.
Asked what he thought of the new sanctions imposed by the UK and US today, he responded: ‘You can choke on your sanctions in Britain!
‘We didn’t know what this ‘Britain’ was for 1000 years, and we don’t want to know it now. You are American lapdogs!’
Levied in response to human rights violations and the hijack of a Ryanair plane, new measures include preventing Belarusian aircraft from overflying or landing in the UK, and ban on UK firms servicing Lukashenko’s fleet of private jets.
Lukashenko was speaking at a rare press conferences featuring members of foreign media in Minsk to mark one year since his ‘reelection’
A package of financial measures also aims to limit the ability of the Belarusian state and its banks to raise funds on international markets.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: ‘The Lukashenko regime continues to crush democracy and violate human rights in Belarus.
‘These sanctions demonstrate that the UK will not accept Lukashenko’s actions since the fraudulent election.
‘The products of Lukashenko’s state-owned industries will not be sold in the UK, and our aerospace companies will not touch his fleet of luxury aircraft.’
The Government also said its response will include a further tightening of the existing arms embargo.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden was expected to sign an executive order on Monday targeting Lukashenko over an ongoing ‘assault against the democratic aspirations and human rights of the Belarusian people, transnational repression… and corruption.’
In power since 1994, Lukashenko has been cracking down on opponents since unprecedented protests erupted after last year’s elections.
‘Since then, the regime has only further expanded its repression, including by threatening the safety of an Olympic athlete outside its borders,’ a US official said.
‘With today’s actions, President Biden is abiding by his pledge to hold the Belarussian regime accountable for its abuses.’
Asked about Olympic defector Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, Lukashenko said she had been ‘manipulated’ into leaving the country while attacking her sporting achievements
The latest sanctions target key institutions and supporters of Lukashenko including the Belarusian National Olympic Committee, business leaders and companies such a private Belarusian bank.
Also on the list is Belaruskali OAO, one of Belarus’s largest state-owned enterprises and one of the world’s largest producers of potash. It is alleged to be a source of illegal wealth for the regime.
The US accused the National Olympic Committee of facilitating money laundering, sanctions evasion and circumventing visa bans.
Western nations have already imposed a slew of sanctions on Lukashenko and his regime, but they appear to have had limited effect as he maintains backing from key ally and creditor Russia.
Tsimanouskaya, 24, arrived in Poland on Wednesday after being granted a humanitarian visa, saying she was ‘happy to be in safety.’
According to local rights group Viasna, there are currently 603 political prisoners in Belarus.
The US will call for an international investigation into the Ryanair flight diversion, the release of all political prisoners, and free and fair elections.
The Ryanair flight, heading from Greece to Lithuania carrying prominent regime critic Roman Protasevich, was diverted by a Belarusian jet on the pretext of a bomb threat as it passed through the country’s airspace.
Grounded in Minsk, Protesevich was hauled off the aircraft and arrested before the rest of the passengers were allowed back on and the flight continued to Vilnius.
Belarus is ‘no longer safe for its citizens’, Olympic defector says from her new home in Poland
A Belarusian sprinter whose Cold War-style defection during the Olympics has gripped the world urged her fellow citizens on Monday to follow her lead and speak out against the regime.
In an interview with AFP on the first anniversary of a disputed presidential election in Belarus, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said that Belarus was ‘no longer a safe country for its own citizens’.
‘People are afraid to go to any protests because they are afraid of getting beaten up, they are afraid of ending up in prison,’ said the 24-year-old, speaking in a Warsaw office of the pro-opposition Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF).
‘I would like my country to be free, I would like every citizen to have the right to free speech, for everyone to be able to live a normal life and to stop being afraid,’ she said.
Belarus has been shaken by unprecedented mass protests against strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s regime ever since he claimed victory in an August 9 election which the opposition says was rigged in his favour.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who fled Belarus’s Olympic athletics team after being threatened by the regime, spoke today from her new home in Poland
Tsimanouskaya, who appeared composed but tense during the interview, said she would one day like to return to Belarus to her family but ‘only when it will be safe and free’.
Asked if that meant Lukashenko should no longer be in power, she answered: ‘It probably can only be free without him’.
Tsimanouskaya fell out with her coaches during the Olympics and accused them of trying to forcibly bring her home on August 1.
She turned to Japanese police for help and was then granted a humanitarian visa by Poland, which put her up at its embassy in Tokyo and flew her to Warsaw under diplomatic protection.
Tsimanouskaya has said that what persuaded her to reach out to the police was a phone call from her grandmother in Belarus while she was already on her way to Tokyo airport.
‘She called me and said I should not come back to Belarus and I should do everything I could in order not to return,’ she said.
The athlete said she was afraid that if she returned she would end up ‘in a psychiatric clinic or in prison’.
Also speaking on Monday at a press conference, Lukashenko accused the sprinter of being ‘controlled’ by Warsaw.
She responded by saying that it was ‘absolutely untrue’ and that her actions had not been planned ahead of time, adding: ‘I reached out for help myself at the very last minute’.
Two Belarusian coaches were later stripped of their accreditations by the International Olympic Committee, which is conducting a broader investigation into the incident.
Tsimanouskaya said she had no regrets about what she did as ‘I don’t regret showing the world the truth’.
‘Maybe all those years of sport have strengthened me… I won’t allow anyone to disrespect me,’ said the athlete.
She said she believes there are others in the same situation as her and urged them to ‘gather enough courage’ to leave Belarus.
The BSSF says there are seven athletes jailed in Belarus as political prisoners and 36 professional athletes and coaches who have been dismissed from national teams for their views.
Tsimanouskaya is currently auctioning off the silver medal she won at the European Games in Minsk in 2019 on eBay to raise funds for the foundation to help other athletes.
The bid for the medal at 1400 GMT on Monday was $20,000 (17,000 euros).
Asked about her own sporting future, she said nothing was certain but Polish authorities were helping her and she hopes she can be allowed to run for a different national team.
‘I’m looking at the next Olympics. I would like to take part.’