Lukashenko's time to hit a nerve

Society
David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House, and Jörg Forbrig, an expert German Marshall Fund of the United States, writes in today's edition of the Financial Times, the European Union if it wants to get influence on the situation in Belarus should impose economic sanctions against Minsk. We offer you a translation of this material.

After fraudulent elections in December brutal suppression of the protests only increased the suffering of the Belarusian democratic opposition, civil society and the media, which are in a state of siege in the country. In response, the EU ministers were on Monday to approve a new travel ban and assets zamarozhanne Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator of the country, but more than 150 of his followers. The move is welcome, but it does not go far enough. It is time to hit Mr Lukashenko in the sore spot: its economy.

Union deserves credit for this decisive step, which is a radical departure from the previous two-year campaign of "engagement" Mr. Lukashenko. This policy has produced no results and was replaced by new promises to increase support for democracy in the country. But more can be done to persuade the regime pressure for reform and the release of dozens of political prisoners, which holds the Belarusian KGB. The release of two prominent prisoners over the weekend leaves no doubt that the regime is sensitive to such pressure.

To achieve this release and push for wider changes, the West must now take economic measures against Minsk. Backed up by generous Russian subsidies and every time big business ties with the European Union, the Belarusian dictator was able to buy political obedience to his people. Income allows him to also contain a huge security apparatus.

However, the financial situation Lukashenko has become less stable in recent years, creating a great opportunity to apply pressure. Russia has been gradually admenvats subsidies in the form of cheap oil and gas, while the once-advanced Belarusian products have become uncompetitive due to lack of investments and reforms in the economy for many years. To fill the hole in its budget, Minsk took loans in a stunning scale, tripling the country's debt over the past three years. Widely publicized "Belarusian model" is increasingly beginning to bulge at the seams. These weak points of the EU and the U.S. should use.

First, the EU should freeze the assets of the state — that is, Lukashenka — Belarusian companies and their subsidiaries. United States three years ago proved that such measures fail, when the assets of the oil monopoly "Belneftekhim" were blocked, forcing Lukashenko to release political prisoners.

Secondly, the EU should reconsider its consumption of goods Belarusian exports. Sales, mainly to Europe, petrochemicals gives the majority of Belarusian income. Diesel with Belarusian refineries, however, is only 1 percent of its consumption in the EU. Suspended trading in them would be of little detriment of Europe, but would be a serious economic blow to Mr Lukashenko. Belarus will also soon be forced to pay debts, while its own reserves are reduced and loans require maintenance. If the regime does not release more prisoners, the EU should cut off their credit lines for Belarus. International financial institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, should go after him.

Finally, Mr. Lukashenko has long grew rich from the dark arms deals. Recently there were suspicions that Belarus sold missiles to Iran, and the fighters posed by Belarus and the Belarusian pilots bombed a French military base in Ivory Coast during the civil war in 2004. Further such arms deals be locked. In addition to improving safety, such a move also dry substantial source of income for the regime.

Some warn that taking more stringent measures, the EU and the U.S. will cause the resistance of Russia (which considers Belarus as part of their general areas of interest), while others fear that punitive measures to push into the arms of Mr. Lukashenko in Moscow. But these arguments should not deter action. Russia looks to Lukashenko with skepticism and is unlikely to want to apply some measures in response. The sanctions were introduced in the past because to respond to how Mr. Lukashenko has managed with its own people, not because Minsk and Moscow were in good or bad terms, this approach should not change.

Punitive measures that we propose strongly supported the Belarusian democrats. They know that it is time to put the screws on the last dictator of Europe. At the time when the wave moves with freedom in Tunisia Egipet further, Europe must help those who are looking for free on the border — and confront the threat that Lukashenko is for freedom and human rights in Belarus and abroad.

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