By Natalia Zinets, William James and Elizabeth Piper
KYIV / LONDON / WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A defiant President Alexander Lukashenko said on Monday that a Belarusian sprinter defected at the Olympics only because she had been “manipulated” by outside forces and shrugged off a coordinated barrage of new Western sanctions.
At an hours-long press conference on the anniversary of an election that opponents said was rigged so that he could win, Lukashenko denied being a dictator and said he had defended Belarus from opponents planning a coup.
While speaking at his presidential palace in Minsk, Britain, Canada and the United States announced coordinated sanctions targeting the Belarusian economy and its financial sector, including exports of petroleum products and potash, which is used in fertilizers and is the main source of foreign exchange. from Belarus. .
Lukashenko said Britain would “choke” on his measures and was ready for talks with the West instead of sanctions.
Lukashenko said that he won the presidential election fairly on August 9, 2020 and that some people had been “preparing for a fair election, while others were calling for … a coup.”
Tens of thousands of people joined the street protests in 2020, Lukashenko’s biggest challenge since he took office in 1994. He responded with an offensive in which many opponents have been arrested or have gone into exile. They deny planning a coup.
Dismissing the accusations that he is a dictator, he said: “To dictate, I am a completely sane person, you have to have adequate resources. I have never dictated anything to anyone and I am not going to.”
Belarus has returned to the international spotlight since sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya fled to Warsaw last week after a dispute with her coaches in which she said an order came from “up” to send her home from Tokyo.
“She would not do it herself, she was manipulated. It was from Japan, from Tokyo, that she contacted her friends in Poland and they told her, literally, that when you come to the airport, she runs up to a Japanese police officer and yells that those who left her at the airport are KGB agents, “Lukashenko said.
“There was not a single agent for special services in Japan.”
DENIAL OF DICTATORSHIP
Lukashenko, 66, has maintained power with the political and financial support of Russia, which sees Belarus as a buffer state against the military alliance of NATO and the European Union.
Belarus would respond if necessary to the pressure of sanctions, but “there is no need to take on the axes and forks of sanctions,” he said.
Western countries that announced sanctions cited human rights violations and electoral fraud. US President Joe Biden condemned what he called a “brutal campaign of repression to quell dissent.”
“… The actions of the Lukashenka regime are an illegitimate effort to cling to power at any cost. It is the responsibility of all those who care about human rights, free and fair elections and freedom of expression to oppose this oppression.” Biden said.
Biden’s executive order allows the United States to block people who do business with a wide range of Belarusian officials and others involved in activities in the country deemed corrupt. It also restricts the transfer of your property in the United States and your travel to the country.
British sanctions also prohibited the purchase of transferable securities and money market instruments issued by the Belarusian state and state banks. Canada released a similar action.
Previous sanctions, including that of the EU, have not persuaded Lukashenko to change course.
“While we take it patiently, let’s sit at the negotiating table and start talking about how to get out of this situation, because we will get bogged down with no turning back,” Lukashenko said.
Tensions with Western powers reached new heights after Belarus forced a plane to land in Minsk in May and arrested a dissident Belarusian journalist on board.
On the other hand, neighboring Lithuania and Poland accuse Belarus of trying to create a migration crisis in retaliation for EU sanctions.
Poland reported that a record number of migrants had crossed the border from Belarus since Friday, saying they were likely from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lukashenko says that Lithuania and Poland are to blame.
He also denied involvement in the killing last week of Vitaly Shishov, who ran a Kiev-based organization that helps Belarusians fleeing persecution. Shishov was found hanged in Kiev.
Lukashenko’s opponents say there are now more than 600 political prisoners in jail.
“The sanctions are not a silver bullet, but they will help stop the repression,” exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said in Vilnius.