Belarus dictator threatens to ‘flood EU with drugs and migrants’
European foreign ministers mulling economic action after Ryanair plane ‘hijacking’
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has warned the EU that he will allow migrants and drugs to flood into western Europe if sanctions are imposed on his country following the forced landing of a Ryanair passenger plane.
EU foreign ministers met in Lisbon yesterday to discuss economic measures that will “target the former Soviet state’s most important industries and its financial sector”, The Times reports. The 66-year-old dictator responded to the threat of sanctions by saying: “We stopped drugs and migrants. Now you will eat them and catch them yourselves.”
Belarus shares a border with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, all of which are EU member states, as well as Ukraine and Russia, prompting Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte to warn: “This is an unpredictable regime from which you can expect anything, and you have to be prepared for anything.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said yesterday that Belarus will face “a barrage of sanctions if it did not start releasing political prisoners”, Politico says, including dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner who were detained on Monday.
The sanctions are expected to first focus on “individuals and companies close to Lukashenko’s regime”, but could be extended into “an economic and financial crackdown on the regime if it does not change course”, the news site adds.
“Belarusian oil as well as potash” are likely to be the sectors that EU sanctions seek to target, The Times adds, as the eastern European nation currently “meets about 25% of Europe’s demand for the fertiliser”. “The key word, I think, is potash,” Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, said. “I think it would hurt Lukashenko very much if we managed something in this area.”
NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg today told Sky News that “we know the very close relationship between Russia and Belarus”, adding that it is “hard to believe that the regime in Minsk could do something like this without any kind of coordination with Russia”.
Moscow denied any involvement in the forced landing of the Ryanair flight and was initially muted in its backing for Belarus. But in a “show of support for Lukashenko”, Russia has now “refused permission for Air France and Austrian Airlines aircraft to enter its airspace”, The Times says.
“Austria and other countries fear that an economic blockade could push Belarus even closer to Russia,” the paper adds. However, Lukashenko has sought to play down the impact of any sanctions, saying “we’ll substitute Europe, which is growing mercilessly old, for rapidly growing Asia”.