What a time to be Belarus. Under the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko (pictured), Europe’s last dictatorship has spent the past few months engaging in a series of antagonistic diplomatic moves, from hijacking a Ryanair flight that carried a dissident Belarusian journalist in May to more recently directing a steady flow of Middle Eastern and Asian migrants to its borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. This has all taken place amid a backdrop of crackdowns on demonstrators and opposition figures within the country. Many took to the streets to protest the results of the August 2020 presidential election – widely believed to be stolen – which delivered Lukashenko another win.
These actions spurred the EU, the US, Canada and the UK to impose further sanctions this month on Belarus, with the aim of squeezing Lukashenko and his inner circle. Lukashenko, however, remained publicly defiant, responding, “You can choke on your sanctions.”
Yet just as the international community is attempting to pile pressure onto Belarus, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this week awarded the nation $1bn (€851m) in order to help it tackle the coronavirus pandemic. The IMF decided not to include Belarus in the list of countries with illegitimate regimes, such as Venezuela, Myanmar and, now, Afghanistan, to which the group won’t offer funds.
The IMF claims its decision was “guided by the international community”, which has yet to formally declare Belarus an illegitimate government, but the move has been met with understandable disbelief and outrage. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition politician thought to be the rightful winner of last August’s election who was driven from the country by the regime, has protested against the transfer of funds, saying that it won’t go towards combatting the pandemic but would mean “more terror against Belarusians”. It’s hard to imagine what a further emboldened Lukashenko might do but it appears that the world might soon find out.