The United Kingdom and Canada imposed sweeping sanctions against President Alexsandr Lukashenko of Belarus yesterday, a week after the EU, Canada and US recognized his Presidency as illegitimate. Those declarations were issued on September 23 and 24, as a public acknowledgement of widely reported discrepancies in voting, the arrest of more than 12,000 demonstrators and the revelation of Russian media being imported to sanitize the news in favor of Lukashenko and Putin.
Officials from neighboring countries Poland and Lithuania, both of whom are sheltering some of the political opposition from Belarus, appealed to Western nations last week to pressure Belarus via sanctions. Canada and the UK responded with travel bans and asset freezes yesterday, while the US and the EU have not yet participated. Most EU nations have agreed to impose sanctions, but the country of Cyprus is exercising a veto, preventing a sanction package from going into effect. The US has said they wish to wait and present a sanction package concurrently with the EU.
Lukashenko’s primary ally is Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Russian money flowing into Cyprus in recent years has lent considerable influence to Russian interests; a widely distributed article from the Financial Times in early 2020 described it as “Moscow on the Med“. That leverage is suspected of being behind the Cyprus veto.
The UK, which has a distinct sanction mechanism from the EU, was able to respond in favor of Poland and Lithuania and on behalf of human rights. Canada, which is an independent country, corresponded with the UK to present a united front.
Much like Canada and the UK, the US is not bound by the Cyprus veto. By standing with the EU, we present a public face in favor of human rights while functionally aiding Putin and Lukashenko.