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Blinken Heads Back to Europe for Meetings on Libya, Defeating Islamic State

On June 23, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading back to Europe, this time to Germany, France and Italy, to discuss a range of bilateral issues and attend meetings on Libya and combating the Islamic State terrorist group. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington. Produced by: Marcus Harton 
 

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Belarus Says Western Sanctions Border ‘Declaration of Economic War’

On June 22, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

Belarus perceives planned Western sanctions against the eastern European country as a near declaration of economic war, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.
 
The ministry issued the statement one day after the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada said they would place sanctions on several top Belarusian officials in response to Belarus’s forced landing of a passenger plane last month to arrest a dissident journalist.
 
The EU also said it was planning to impose economic sanctions targeting key Belarusian export commodities, such as potash and petroleum products.
 
“[The EU] continues purposeful destructive actions against the population in order, allegedly, to “dry up the regime financially. In fact, this borders on a declaration of economic war,” the ministry said.
 
Belarusian flight controllers on May 23 ordered a Ryanair jet en route to Lithuania from Greece to land in Minsk, where journalist Raman Pratasevich, a passenger, was arrested.
 
Pratasevich co-founded a channel on a messaging app that helped organize protests against the government of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.  
 
Since his arrest, the 26-year-old journalist has been seen on state television tearfully atoning for his actions and praising Lukashenko, prompting Lukashenko’s critics to say Pratasevich was forced to make the remarks.
  

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After Big Election Victory, Armenia’s Leader Calls for Reconciliation

On June 22, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is calling for reconciliation after winning a snap election held in a bid to unite a nation deeply polarized in the wake of its defeat in a recent conflict with Azerbaijan.  Jonathan Spier narrates this report from Pablo Gonzalez in Yerevan and Ricardo Marquina in Moscow.Camera: Pablo Gonzalez 
Produced by: Ricardo Marquina  

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Hitler’s ‘War of Annihilation’ Caught Stalin by Surprise

On June 22, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

“On Saturday, the day before the war, we met with friends in the park,” Red Army engineer Col. Il’ya Grigoryevich Starinov noted years later. “Orchestras and brass bands played, people danced, and we were happy. It was lovely and pleasant,” he wrote in his memoir Over the Abyss. It was 21 June 1941 and Starinov was in the town of Brest — a strategic town earmarked to be captured on the first day of Operation Barbarossa, the code name for the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Within hours, Brest would be rocked by infantry gunfire and artillery bombardments. Eighty years ago Tuesday more than three million German soldiers advanced on an 1,800-mile front from Estonia to Ukraine and invaded communist Russia, taking autocrat Joseph Stalin by surprise, despite warnings from Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill and from some Soviet military commanders and spies. Stalin reckoned Adolf Hitler wouldn’t invade for another year and he had only started a few weeks earlier to redeploy Red Army divisions to the western front. Operation Barbarossa was the biggest military operation in history and Hitler and his generals started the meticulous planning for it nine months earlier. As far as Hitler was concerned, it was to be a “war of annihilation” — against Jews and Slavs, both considered subhuman by the German Führer.  Eight decades on, Germany has been marking the 80th anniversary of an invasion some military historians say lost Hitler the Second World War. Buoyed by the ease of their Blitzkrieg victories over France and Poland, Hitler and his senior generals underestimated the caliber of the Red Army, the superiority of Russian tanks and the resolve of ordinary Russians, says British broadcaster and author Jonathan Dimbleby in a new book on the invasion, Barbarossa: How Hitler Lost the War. But Hitler’s strategic miscalculation was far from the mind of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier Friday when opening a Barbarossa exhibition in Berlin. He said the anniversary offered an opportunity to rethink events in 1941 when German soldiers unleashed “hatred and violence” and the war moved “towards the madness of total annihilation.”German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier addresses the media at his residence Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Germany, Friday, May 28, 2021. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier announces he will seeks for a second term.“From the very first day, the German campaign was driven by hatred: by antisemitism and anti-Bolshevism, by racial mania against the Slavic and Asian peoples of the Soviet Union. As difficult as it may be for us, we must remember this,” he said. An estimated 27 million people, including 14 million civilians, were “murdered, beaten to death, allowed to starve to death or worked to death” by the Wehrmacht and SS Death Squads, or Einsatzgruppen, Steinmeier said. Germany, he added, had for too long suppressed the “unprecedented brutality and gruesomeness” of its soldiers during the war with the Soviet Union. “It weighs on us that our fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers were involved in these crimes,” he said.  Muted remembrance While Germany has had high-profile events to mark the anniversary, Russian commemorations Tuesday will be more low-key and muted — in contrast to the pomp and circumstance afforded other notable wartime events, especially of Red Army triumphs.  In 2018, the 75th anniversary of the Russian victory at Stalingrad was marked with somber memorials and patriotic military parades with President Vladimir Putin highly visible throughout the ceremonies as well as during the lead up to them. On Friday, a Kremlin spokesman said the media would be informed of any special events in due course, but supplied no details of any major commemoration plans for Putin.  Even so, as in other years, the anniversary of Barbarossa, known as the Day of Remembrance and Sorrow, will be marked with candlelit parades and the laying of wreaths in most Russian towns and cities. Some commentators suggest Operation Barbarossa doesn’t fit so well with the Kremlin’s efforts the past few years to rehabilitate Stalin. Nine days before the invasion, the Kremlin ordered Moscow radio to assure listeners there was no prospect of a German invasion. An official TASS report dismissed “rumors” of a coming German attack as “clumsy propaganda” spread by countries hostile to Soviet Russia. Even as the offensive unfolded, Stalin still thought it was a provocation by German generals. “I’m sure Hitler isn’t aware of this,” Stalin told military aides. In the months preceding the invasion, which was originally codenamed ‘Otto,’ Hitler and his generals massed seven armies, consisting of 120 divisions, along a line stretching from the Gulf of Finland to the Black Sea. The invasion force included 600,000 vehicles, 750,000 artillery pieces and nearly two thousand aircraft. More than a hundred landing strips were prepared in Nazi-occupied Poland for an invasion that would trigger three and half years of bloodshed and barbarity.  German officers and men were told little of where eventually they would be heading, but many guessed. Secrecy was the order of the day. To try to disguise what was happening from the Soviets, German troops in some populated areas were ordered to wear civilian clothes; tanks and troop movements were made under the cover of darkness. “We ourselves became aware around 20 June that war against the Russians was a possibility,” infantrymen Gerhard Gortz noted in a journal quoted by historian Robert Kershaw in his book War Without Garlands. That was just two days before the invasion got underway. “There was a feeling in the air. No fires were allowed, and one could not walk about with torches or cause any noise,” he added.  As he scribbled in his diary, Russian trains were still transporting raw materials and agricultural produce to Germany, exports agreed in the nonaggression pact Hitler and Stalin struck in 1939. German infantryman, Theo Scharf, observed on the eve of battle: “Oil tank trains rolled continuously westward, past us, from the oil fields on the Soviet side.” Russian military commanders bordering the frontier were aware of the German military buildup, according to Kershaw, but no orders were issued by Moscow for them to raise their state of readiness and “where measures were taken on the initiative of individual staffs, they were ordered to be reversed,” he says.  Russian historian Dimitrij Wolkognov, who was a Red Army officer during the war, later wrote: “Stalin was like God on earth. He alone said, ‘the war will not happen now.’ It was his isolated belief, and he wanted to believe it.”  As bombs rained down on Soviet positions and Wehrmacht infantrymen and German tanks launched their assault, Russian units on the front were ordered to observe and not to act as the attack was still viewed in Moscow as a provocation. Nazi forces advanced quickly into Russia rapidly. But within six months the hubristic offensive sputtered after the Wehrmacht suffered at least 800,000 casualties and the Soviets six times that number. The winter took its toll of German soldiers who had not been supplied with cold-weather clothing.  As the invasion got underway, a German platoon commander noted in his journal that almost 129 years before, Emperor Napoleon had launched his Russian campaign. “We all know what happened. Will we do better?”  They didn’t and Hitler’s gamble failed, sealing Germany’s fate in the Second World War. 

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Spain to Pardon Catalan Separatist Leaders

On June 22, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said his government on Tuesday would pardon nine jailed leaders of the Catalonia region’s 2017 move for independence.
 
Sanchez told a group of civil society leaders in Barcelona that his Cabinet would approve the pardons.
 
Opposition parties have said they would challenge the pardons in court. Opinion polls showed a slim majority of the public opposed the pardons.
 
Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan leaders to jail in 2019 for sedition and other offenses, with the sentences ranging from nine to 13 years.
 
The government in Madrid had banned Catalonia from holding its independence referendum, but the leaders went ahead with the vote anyway. The pro-independence side scored an overwhelming victory. The poll was boycotted by most unionists.
 
Sanchez said in his address Monday that for the two sides to move forward, “someone must make the first step.”
 
The current regional leader in Catalonia, Pere Aragones, welcomed the pardons as an initial move, but said he would push for amnesty and a new, authorized independence referendum.
 
The pardons do not affect the status of former regional leader Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium shortly after the 2017 referendum and was not among those convicted.

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US Seeks to Extradite Turkish Businessman Over Fraud Charges

On June 22, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

The United States will seek to extradite a Turkish businessman from Austria so he can appear before a U.S. judge in Utah, where he is facing charges of conspiring to commit money laundering and wire fraud, the U.S. Justice Department said on Monday.   Sezgin Baran Korkmaz laundered more than $133 million in fraud proceeds through bank accounts that he controlled in Turkey and Luxembourg, the Justice Department said in a statement. Korkmaz, it said, was arrested in Austria on Saturday at the department’s request, following the unsealing of a superseding indictment charging him with conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and obstruction of an official proceeding. Reuters was not immediately able to identify Korkmaz’s lawyers for comment. The businessman is also being investigated by Turkey, where prosecutors in December detained 10 executives working at Korkmaz’s companies, after Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) said the companies were used for money laundering, Turkish state-news agency Anadolu reported. The Turkish ambassador to Austria told Dogan News agency on Sunday that Korkmaz was detained on Saturday in a town about 260 kilometers (160 miles) from Vienna and that Turkey had initiated an extradition process with Austrian authorities.   The Turkish Foreign Ministry did not return a call for comment.   It was not immediately clear where Korkmaz would be extradited. He is believed to have left Turkey in December before the police raids. U.S. prosecutors say the fraud proceeds stemmed from a scheme involving the filing of false claims for more than $1 billion in renewable fuel tax credits for the production and sale of biodiesel by Utah-based Washakie Renewable Energy LLC. Washakie could not immediately be reached for comment. Korkmaz and co-conspirators allegedly used the proceeds from the scheme to buy the Turkish airline Borajet, hotels in Turkey and Switzerland, a yacht named the Queen Anne and a villa and an apartment on the Bosphorus in Istanbul, the Justice Department said. 

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EU, US, UK, Canada Join Forces to Slap Sanctions on Belarus

On June 22, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada joined forces Monday to impose sanctions on several senior officials in Belarus over the forced diversion to Minsk of a passenger plane traveling between two EU countries last month. Asset freezes and travel bans were also imposed on a number of officials linked to the security crackdown that continues to rock the country some 10 months after President Alexander Lukashenko was returned to power in elections branded by the EU and others as “fraudulent.” “We are united in our deep concern regarding the Lukashenko regime’s continuing attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms, and international law,” the four said in a joint statement. FILE – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting with top officials in Minsk, Jan. 26, 2021.”We are committed to support the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus and we stand together to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments,” they said. The EU hit seven people and one entity over the “forced and unlawful” landing of the Ryanair plane, which was traveling from Greece to Lithuania when it was ordered to stop in Minsk, where authorities arrested Raman Pratasevich, a dissident journalist who was one of the passengers.  The four called on Minsk to cooperate with an international probe into the incident, immediately release all political prisoners, and “enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue” with the democratic opposition and civil society. FILE – Belarusian dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich gestures while speaking at a news conference at the National Press Center of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Minsk, Belarus, June 14, 2021.Among those targeted by the United States were close Lukashenko associates, those accused of helping to violently suppress peaceful protests since last year and others alleged to have orchestrated fraud during the elections. At a meeting in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers also prepared a series of economic measures that are aimed at hitting Lukashenko and his allies. EU leaders are expected to endorse them at a summit in Brussels on Thursday. The EU has gradually ratcheted up sanctions since Lukashenko — dubbed the last dictator in Europe — won a sixth term last August.  But the 27-nation bloc has taken a harder approach since the Ryanair incident, and over the country’s alleged use of migrants to pressure neighboring Lithuania, which has provided a safe-haven to Belarusian opposition figures and is one of Lukashenko’s most vocal critics. Among their actions Monday, the ministers imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 78 Belarus officials and froze the assets of 8 “entities,” which are usually companies, banks or associations. It means that a total of 166 people and 15 entities are now under EU restrictive measures. “This decision was made in view of the escalation of serious human rights violations in Belarus and the violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition and journalists,” a statement said. FILE – European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a news conference at the European Council building, in Brussels, May 10, 2021.EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting, said the economic sanctions “are going to hurt … the economy of Belarus heavily.” The measures are likely to include action against the export of potash — a common fertilizer ingredient — tobacco industry exports and petroleum products, among others. “We will no longer just sanction individuals. We will now also impose sectoral sanctions — meaning that we will now get to work on the economic areas that are of particular significance for Belarus and for the regime’s income,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “We want to make very, very clear to Lukashenko that there is no going back,” Maas said. Maas said the 27 EU countries stand united on sanctions. “We are really very, very determined not to budge, not just today — nothing about this will change in the coming weeks and months,” he said. FILE – Gabrielius Landsbergis speaks to the media in Vilnius, Lithuania, Oct. 11, 2020.Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said EU countries had thought only a month ago that it still might be possible to reason with Lukashenko but that “the mood is different now.” Landsbergis accused Minsk of “weaponizing” migration flows. He said about 500 people are sheltering in Lithuania, most from Iraq, and that Belarus border guards brought 30 refugees to the border in recent days. He said Lithuania has limited capacity for them and is building a tent camp. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition challenger who fled Belarus after the vote, welcomed the new measures, saying that “the EU and the entire civilized world have set a goal to stop Lukashenko and the escalation of violence.” “The EU sanctions would raise not only external, but also internal pressure on Lukashenko … and will make it more costly for his main sponsor, the Kremlin, to maintain the Belarusian regime,” she said. Tsikhanouskaya said the Ryanair incident shows that “Lukashenko’s regime has become a threat not only to citizens of Belarus but also to international security.” 
 

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France’s Far Right Suffers Setback in Regional Vote  

On June 22, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

Europe’s surging far-right has suffered election setbacks recently — in Germany’s eastern state of Saxony, where Chancellor Angela Merckel’s ruling conservatives prevailed … and in France, where the National Rally party did less well than expected in the first round of regional polls Sunday. From the eastern French town of Montbeliard, Lisa Bryant reports for VOA that a year before presidential elections, the vote was marked by record-low turnout.Camera: Lisa Bryant

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Spanish PM Announces Pardons for 9 Catalonian Separatists

On June 21, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Monday he will pardon nine imprisoned Catalan separatists charged with sedition over their roles in a 2017 referendum on Catalan independence.The announcement came during a speech in Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, about the future of the region.Sánchez said his Cabinet would approve the pardons Tuesday.  Twelve separatists were convicted and given long prison sentences for their roles in holding the banned secession referendum in 2017. They then declared independence a few days after the results. Unionists boycotted the referendum, which was held amid a large police presence intent on stopping it.One of the separatists, Oriol Junqueras, said pardons were being given because the government feared involvement in the cases by the European Union, which he said would likely have overturned the convictions.”With this action, we materially get nine people out of prison, but we symbolically add millions and millions of people to coexistence,” Sánchez said during his speech.The pardons have been a divisive issue in the rest of Spain, with national polling indicating 60% of Spaniards oppose them.Earlier this month, thousands opposed to the pardons took to the streets in Madrid to protest the idea and call for Sánchez’s resignation.

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Bachelet: Poverty, Inequality, Injustice Eroding Human Rights Worldwide

On June 21, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

U.N. human rights chief Michele Bachelet has issued a stark warning that rising poverty, inequality, injustice and the erosion of democratic values were gravely setting back the cause of human rights around the world. Bachelet addressed delegates at the opening of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s three-week session.In her opening remarks, Bachelet called for action to stop what she called the most wide-reaching and severe cascade of human rights setbacks in our lifetime.The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights backed up her assertion by zipping through the human rights records of dozens of countries around the world.No region escaped her withering gaze. She noted the Council would hold special interactive dialogues on several places of specific concern, including Iran, Myanmar, Venezuela and the occupied Palestinian territories. She expressed alarm at the sharp increase in violence and civilian harm in Afghanistan and warned the imminent withdrawal of international forces was creating fear for the future. She deplored the deterioration of freedoms of expression in Belarus and said reports of continued arbitrary arrests and torture of human rights activists was of great concern.“In the Tigray region of Ethiopia, I am deeply disturbed by continued reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross human rights violations and abuses against civilians by all parties to the conflict, including extrajudicial executions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; sexual violence against children as well as adults; and forced displacement,” said Bachelet.In many other parts of Ethiopia, Bachelet warned alarming incidents of deadly ethnic and inter-communal violence and displacement were increasing polarization to a more dangerous level. She urged dialogue throughout the country to address these grievances. Even powerful, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council did not escape condemnation. The high commissioner criticized the application of China’s National Security Law in Hong Kong. She noted this was having a chilling impact on the territory’s civic and democratic space.  She reiterated her request for access to China’s Xinjiang region where an estimated one million Uyghur Muslims allegedly are being held in abusive internment camps.“In the Russian Federation, I am dismayed by recent measures that further undermine people’s right to express critical views, and their ability to take part in the parliamentary elections scheduled in September. Earlier this month, following closed hearings, a court in Moscow ruled that the Anti-Corruption Foundation led by the imprisoned opposition figure Aleksei Navalny was an “extremist organization.” she said.She urged Russia to uphold civil and political rights and to refrain from branding ordinary individuals, journalists, and non-governmental organizations as extremist or foreign agents. Bachelet called for concerted action to recover from these grave human rights setbacks. She said societies must restore systems of justice, reduce inequalities and lift people out of poverty through human rights-based development to create better, more resilient societies for future generations. 

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Germany Arrests Russian Scientist for Spying for Moscow

On June 21, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

German police arrested a Russian scientist working at an unidentified university, accusing him of spying for Moscow, prosecutors said on Monday, in a case that risks further inflaming bilateral tensions.Federal prosecutors said in a statement that the suspect, identified only as Ilnur N., had been taken into custody on Friday on suspicion of “working for a Russian secret service since early October 2020 at the latest”.Ilnur N. was employed until the time of his arrest as a research assistant for a natural sciences and technology department at the unnamed German university.  German investigators believe he met at least three times with a member of Russian intelligence between October 2020 and this month. On two occasions he allegedly “passed on information from the university’s domain”.He is suspected of accepting cash in exchange for his services.German authorities searched his home and workplace in the course of the arrest.The suspect appeared before a judge on Saturday who remanded him in custody.’Completely unacceptable’Neither the German nor the Russian government made any immediate comment on the case.However, Moscow is at loggerheads with several Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.Italy this month said it had created a national cybersecurity agency following warnings by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Europe needed to protect itself from Russian “interference”.  The move came after an Italian navy captain was caught red-handed by police while selling confidential military documents leaked from his computer to a Russian embassy official.The leaders of nine eastern European nations last month condemned what they termed Russian “aggressive acts” citing operations in Ukraine and “sabotage” allegedly targeted at the Czech Republic.Several central and eastern European countries have expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague but Russia has branded accusations of its involvement as “absurd” and responded with tit-for-tat expulsions.The latest espionage case also comes at a time of highly strained relations between Russia and Germany on a number of fronts including the ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning.Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has moreover worked to maintain a sanctions regime over Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the scene of ongoing fighting between pro-Russia separatists and local forces.And Germany has repeatedly accused Russia of cyberattacks on its soil.The most high-profile incident blamed on Russian hackers to date was a cyberattack in 2015 that completely paralyzed the computer network of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, forcing the entire institution offline for days while it was fixed.German prosecutors in February filed espionage charges against a German man suspected of having passed the floor plans of parliament to Russian secret services in 2017.Foreign Minister Heiko Maas last week said Germany was expecting to be the target of Russian disinformation in the run-up to its general election in September, calling it “completely unacceptable”.Russia denies being behind such activities.Despite international criticism, Berlin has forged ahead with plans to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, set to double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany.

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EU Announces More Sanctions on Belarus 

On June 21, 2021, Posted by , in Новини, Світ, With No Comments

European Union foreign ministers announced Monday a fresh raft of sanctions against the Belarusian government, this time targeting 86 officials and state-owned entities. The United States and Britain are likely to follow with further sanctions of their own in the next few days, according to EU officials.  The new sanctions earmark officials suspected of involvement in the forced landing of a Ryanair plane last month as well as participation in the crackdown on opposition protests in Belarus mounted since last year August, when Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in an election widely seen as rigged. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994.  FILE – In this May 23, 2021, photo, a Ryanair jet that carried opposition figure Raman Pratasevich was diverted to Minsk, Belarus, after a bomb threat.The ministers are also likely to signal that sanctions will soon be broadened to include restrictions on Belarus exports of potash and petroleum products and also a ban on any new lending by European banks to Belarus. Those penalties will be coordinated with other Western allies, including the United States later this month, say EU officials. The sanctions announced Monday are a mixture of travel bans and asset freeze. Charles Michel, the president of the European Council tweeted: “Today the EU sends another strong signal of support to the people of Belarus by imposing further restrictive measures. Our message to the regime cannot be misunderstood: Release all political prisoners. Stop further repression.”Among officials blacklisted are transport, defense and air traffic officials. Subsequent broader economic sanctions recommended by the foreign ministers will be discussed by EU national leaders this week. Belarus is dependent on loans from European commercial banks and bans on new lending and a prohibition on EU investors from trading securities or buying short-term bonds would likely have a major economic impact on the country, say EU diplomats. “We have to tighten the thumbscrews,” Austria’s foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg told reporters. Belarus is a major exporter of potash, used in fertilizers, and other chemicals. EU countries imported $1.5 billion worth of chemicals from Belarus last year. It also imported $1.2 billion worth of crude oil and lubricants.Lithuanian officials also redoubled Monday their accusations that Lukashenko has been “weaponizing” migrants and is behind a surge in Iraqi and Syrian asylum-seekers crossing the border illegally into their country.    Migrant trafficking They say Belarus’s state-owned tourism agency has been organizing flights to Minsk from Baghdad and Istanbul for migrants, charging them from $1,800 to $12,000, and then handing them over to Belarusian border guards who assist them to cross the mainly forested 680-kilometer border Lithuania shares with Belarus.  In the last few weeks Lithuanian border guards have detained nearly 400 migrants and at least another thousand are believed to be waiting to cross. During the whole of last year only 74 migrants were detained crossing the border into Lithuania from Belarus. Lithuanian authorities say they are stepping up border security and have asked for help from the EU’s border guard service, Frontex. FILE – A general view of the newly installed tents in Lithuania’s migrant processing center in Pabrade, Lithuania, June 15, 2021.Andrius Kubilius, an EU lawmaker and former Lithuanian prime minister, on Sunday said Belarus is “literally organizing package deals” for migrants, making money while also goading Lithuania.  FILE – Belarusian dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich gestures while speaking at a news conference at the National Press Center of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Minsk, Belarus, June 14, 2021.Lukashenko in May warned he would retaliate against the EU for imposing sanctions after Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk, where they then arrested Belarusian political activist and blogger Raman Pratasevich and his companion, Sofia Sapega, a Russian national. “We stopped drugs and migrants. Now you will eat them and catch them yourselves,” the Belarusian autocrat warned. Last week, Ingrida Simonyte, Lithuania’s prime minister, toured the border and accused Lukashenko of trying to retaliate against her country for Tsikhanouskaya, who opposition activists say was the genuine winner of last August’s presidential election.  “Lukashenko was threatening the European Union that it will be flooded with drugs and migrants, and here we go — in a couple of weeks we see a rapid increase in people who are crossing the border illegally,” Simonyte told local media.  Lithuania has asked the Iraqi and Turkish governments to intervene and to check people boarding flights for Minsk. Later this month, at a conference in Rome, Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis is scheduled to have meetings with his Turkish and Iraqi counterparts. Effects So far Western sanctions imposed on Belarus have had little effect in persuading Lukashenko to pull back from his crackdown on dissent and protest. Belarusian authorities have detained and tortured thousands of protesters, according to rights group. Around 30,000 are believed still to be held in detention.  Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya poses for a photo with European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi (not seen) during a European Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting in Luxemburg, June 21, 2021. (Johanna Geron/Pool Photo via AP)Speaking to British lawmakers recently, opposition leader Tsikhanouskaya a said around a thousand activists are being detained every month. She added. “People are scared of staying in their homes or being on the streets. But they are not giving up — just being more creative with small neighborhood rallies.” U.S. President Joe Biden raised the issue of Belarus during his summit meeting last week with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a Lukashenko ally.FILE – U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin meet at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021.With the West tightening sanctions on Belarus, Minsk is looking to Russia and China for help. Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko has said his country is planning to replace U.S. and European technologies with those from Russia and China. “Of course, we will have to walk away from Western goods, Western technology. We are ready to switch to, among others, Asian technologies, which have been making great strides in the last few decades. According to preliminary calculations, China alone can provide a replacement for 90 percent of European and US technologies,” Golovchenko told a Belarusian broadcaster recently.  

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