by Amiel Ungar
Is it possible that the talk about democracy in Egypt and the Middle East has forced the United States and European Union to take action against Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, and referred to as "the last dictator in Europe"?
The United States and the EU have announced targeted sanctions against Lukashenko and other top officials in Belarus that will prohibit entry into the United States and the EU of these individuals and their families. The EU, in addition to the travel bans, will freeze their assets and property in the EU countries and embargo the products of Belarusian state companies.
The sanctions are a response to the repression following what is seen as the rigged December elections that presumably reelected Lukashenko by a landslide majority.
3/10 rival presidential candidates are still in detention centers; five former candidates, and 37 arrestees, face charges of organizing mass protests and could spend 15 years in jail upon their preordained convictions. Many of the accused have not met their lawyers since December 29.
The regime in Belarus attempted to forestall the sanctions by releasing seven activists prior to the announcement of the sanctions. This was considered too little and too late.
The problem with targeted sanctions, an attempt to distinguish between the innocent and the culprits while avoiding a general boycott that hurts the general population, is that it is far from hermetic. In these troubled economic times, the economic measures taken by the European Union and the United States will no longer suffice to strike terror in Lukashenko's heart. Targeted sanctions, including the prohibition on entry into the United States, had some affect against the Haitian military clique simply because their wives love to jet to Miami and stock up on clothes and baubles in the fashion boutiques.
Lukashenko is not fashion conscious and will have many places remaining where he is welcome to visit, including Iran and Venezuela where he has visited in the past. For this reason, the head of the Deutsche Welle's Russian Broadcasting service,Ingo Mannteufel, has suggested that the United States and European Union enlist the assistance of Russia to make the sanctions more effective.
if Russia, which has had a hot and cold relationship with Lukashenko, would join, it would enhance the effect of sanctions. However, Russia has little interest in going along with such a proposal. They regard Belarus as part of the "near abroad" that is Russia's sphere of influence, and would bridle at an initiative that was not of their choosing. This is the type of proposal that Russia has previously condemned as undue intervention into internal affairs.
Given the current Russian leadership's less than transparent method of conducting its own elections. when the get-out- the-vote effort for Putin sometimes exceeded the total number of registered voters. they would hardly consider Belarus voting irregularities a reason to depart from their policy.. The Russian opposition, moreover, even if disunited and ineffectual, has not been treated with kid gloves in Russia, either.