Belarus: Escalating political tension and sanctions

Belarus is an overlooked country that is located east of Poland and south of Lithuania and Latvia. It is bordered by Russia in the East and also bordered by Ukraine in the South. The landlocked country has an area of 207,600 square kilometers (80,200 square mi) and a population of little over 9 million people. Belarus was one of the newest countries that were formed after the disintegration of the USSR in 1991.

Alexander Lukashenko was elected Belarus’s first president of Belarus in 1994. Since then he has held the position and has been governing the country for more than 25 years. Lukashenko’s style of governance has been deemed as authoritative as there have been no free elections since he got elected. He has maintained many of the Pre-Soviet policies and Belarus’s Democracy Index rating is the lowest in Europe. In the 2020 Belarusian elections, Lukashenko was declared the winner against the opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The election was marred by allegations of widespread electoral fraud. Many western countries had demanded a re-run but that never happened. This also triggered mass protests across the major cities in Belarus. But to control the critics and protesters, the government reacted with brute force, arresting demonstrators and sending numerous protestors behind the bars.

In May 2021 the kidnapping of opposition journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega was another sign of the Belarusian government’s woes against any kind of critics. This was basically a state-sponsored hijacking of air piracy. This incident occurred on Ryanair Flight 4978 en route to Vilnius on May 23 when the plane was diverted to Minsk with a fake bomb threat from Belarusian air traffic control. After this violation of international aviation rules, both were arrested on questionable charges of organizing mass unrest.

Belarus has always swayed between Russia and the EU but recently European Union has imposed one of the toughest restrictions against Belarus. EU has blocked the sale or supply of major technology to Belarus, as well as restricted access to capital markets and trade in oil and potash. EU has also imposed airspace restrictions against Belarus. But any sanctions against Belarus must not target ordinary people. Because the land borders are already sealed off with Poland and Lithuania. The only viable option for Belarusian people was air travel. So this restriction will also affect the citizens of the country. To counter the problem of Potash sanctions, Lukashenko has struck a deal with his Russian business friend to create a new Potash mining and processing plant. But this will come at a cost of increased taxes for the individual citizens of Belarus amid the Covid-19 crisis and economic downturn. The United States has also imposed visa bans and other sanctions on 62 individuals who were identified as contributing to the Belarus crackdown.  

The citizens of Belarus deserve free Elections and a leader who can think about the citizens of the country instead of holding onto the power. With a progressive leader, Belarus could have been on par with the Baltic countries. The recent sanction might or might not work but in the end, the common citizens of the country suffer the most.