NATO and EU leaders talk tough about Belarus, but they are powerless to protect exiled dissidents.
When a passenger plane was forced to divert to Minsk due to a bogus bomb threat, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko stunned the globe. Security agents arrested famed dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner.
The operation’s bravado drew worldwide condemnation and threats of new penalties on Lukashenko and his autocratic administration, which has clung to power despite widespread demonstrations that erupted during last year’s disputed presidential election.
Lukashenko has kept his grip on power by using brutality and intimidation. Thousands of people were imprisoned and tortured by security agents eager to put down the simmering movement. Lukashenko, who is backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has rebuffed calls for new elections and dialogue, and is now stepping up his assault on the country’s few remaining free media outlets.
Despite the tough rhetoric, the European Union, NATO, and the United States have so far refrained from imposing the most severe sanctions advocated by Belarusian dissidents and human rights organizations. Last year, Lukashenko’s ruthless retaliation rescued his dictatorship, and they seems to have bought him some time in power.
Unless democracies take significant action, pro-democracy campaigners and dissidents told Washington Newsday that Lukashenko’s newest authoritarian move might serve as a model for other dictators around the world.
“Nowhere is safe,” said Natalia Kaliada, a Belarusian dissident and pro-democracy campaigner who has lived in exile in the United Kingdom for a decade.
Kaliada and her husband, Nikolai Khalezin, escaped Belarus on New Year’s Eve in 2010, shortly after Kaliada was released from prison due to a clerical error by security services.
Death threats continue to be issued to the couple, who now run the Belarus Free Theater in London, including ones published in the primary Belarusian official daily, Sovietska Belarus.
Kaliada told Washington Newsday that death threats had intensified since the latest protests. “I never felt safe,” she said when asked if she felt more in danger after Protasevich’s detention.
Kaliada recalled how Belarusian dissidents and protesters had been detained, abused, and killed “behind closed doors” in the past. However, in the aftermath of the latest turmoil, Lukashenko appears to have released his security forces.
“They are willing to kill in front of the entire world,” stated Kaliada. “They’re willing to take over an airplane in front of the entire world. They’ve been terrified.”
The EU and NATO countries have battled to defend their citizens. This is a condensed version of the information.