West seeks new ways to hold Belarusian dictator Lukashenka to account
When Alyaksandr Lukashanka’s autocratic regime effectively hijacked a Ryanair flight in May 2021 before forcing it to land in Minsk and abduct two of its passengers, the international consequences were swift.
The European Union has banned Belarusian airlines from its airspace and airports, while also banning European carriers from flying over Belarusian airspace. Meanwhile, the United States has banned the sale of airline tickets to and from Belarus.
Five months after Lukashenka’s act of air piracy, calls for even more severe measures are being heard. Candidate of US President Joe Biden for Representative to the United Nations Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) call that Belarus be suspended from this body which regulates international aviation safety.
In his testimony before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, CB “Sully” Sullenberger, a former airline pilot who gained international fame in 2009 when he safely landed an Airbus A320 on the Hudson River in New York after hit a flock of geese, said to be taken “on Belarus.
Specifically, he noted that ICAO can temporarily suppress a state’s right to vote for violating international standards and said, “we should pull all the levers necessary to hold accountable those responsible for this act.”
Noting that the forced landing of Ryanair flight 4978 and the arrest of Belarusian dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich “showed a blatant disregard for international aviation safety and security standards,” Sullenberger said, ICAO “must ensure that these standards are respected “. He also said he would ask for a full timeline of the incident.
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Suspension of Belarusian voting rights would require a majority vote of the 193 members of the ICAO Assembly. And while such an outcome would be far from guaranteed, by raising the question, Sullenberger shifts the discussion on Belarus to important new territory.
Over the past year, the Lukashenka regime has violated international standards with astonishing regularity. In addition to de facto embezzlement of Ryanair flight 4978, the Belarusian dictator is accused of ordering the torture of opposition figures and national critics, of causing a migrant crisis on his country’s borders with Lithuania, Latvia and Poland and threaten to disrupt vital supply chains between Europe and Asia.
While the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States have all imposed multiple rounds of sanctions, Belarus remains a member in good standing of international organizations and has largely evaded multilateral responsibility.
This may be about to change. In addition to Sullenberger’s call to suspend Belarusian voting rights in ICAO, there are also growing demands in Europe for Lukashenka to face an international tribunal.
On October 5, two members of the European Parliament, former Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius and German Green MP Sergey Lagodinsky, call for Loukachenka will be brought before the International Court of Justice for torture. The lawmakers’ request is expected to be included in a resolution that the European Parliament is due to vote on on October 7. Deutsche Welle reported.
The recent move on both sides of the Atlantic to hold the Lukashanka regime accountable beyond the existing sanctions measures imposed on Belarus is an encouraging sign.
Such efforts, however, will be incomplete until steps are also taken to comprehensively target the Russian facilitators of the autocratic Belarusian leader. These include not only Vladimir Putin’s regime, but also the Russian oligarchs and Kremlin-linked companies that supported Lukashenka.
The European Union has taken an important step in this direction by sanctioning the Russian businessman Mikhail Gutseriev, the largest foreign investor in Belarus. But other Russian facilitators have escaped the consequences and continue to enjoy the veneer of international respectability.
A key figure is German Gref, the powerful CEO of Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. Gref is widely regarded as Gutseriyev’s main political patron among the Russian elite and a long-time ally of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin. He owns would have supported Lukashenka and supervised major investment projects in Belarusian real estate sector worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Vladislav Inozemtsev, Senior Associate of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that while Gref is generally regarded in Western circles as a liberal banker, “he is in fact perhaps Lukashenka’s most prominent lobbyist in the Kremlin”.
Sullenberger’s call to suspend Belarusian voting rights in ICAO, demand by EU lawmakers for Lukashenka to be brought before an international tribunal, and measures to sanction Russian facilitators of the Belarusian regime are all part of the same whole .
For too long, the West and the international community have allowed autocratic regimes like Lukashenka’s and Putin’s to have it both ways, reaping the benefits of international laws, rules and standards even if they brazenly flout them. It’s time to hold these autocrats accountable.
Brian Whitmore is a Non-Resident Principal Investigator at the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, Assistant Professor of Practice at the University of Texas at Arlington, and host of The Power Vertical podcast.
The opinions expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff or its supporters.
The Eurasia Center mission is to strengthen transatlantic cooperation by promoting stability, democratic values and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia in the East .