Britain on Friday became the latest European country to recall their ambassadors from Belarus in solidarity with Poland and Lithuania after Minsk ordered the two countries to reduce their diplomatic staff.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain “condemns Belarus’ decision to expel Polish and Lithuanian diplomats” which he described as “completely unjustified”.
“In solidarity, we are temporarily recalling out Ambassador for consultations on the situation in Belarus,” he added.
Poland and Lithuania recalled 35 diplomats from Belarus on Friday, five days after Minsk recalled its own ambassadors from the two European Union member states. It also requested the two countries reduce the staff of their diplomatic missions in Belarus.
Minsk’s demand came on the same day as the EU imposed sanctions on some 40 Belarusians officials involved in the rigging of the August 9 presidential election and the repression of protests.
The EU rejects the official results of the ballot which gave incumbent Alexander Lukashenko — in power for 26 years — more than 80 per cent of the vote.
Poland and Lithuania both border Belarus and have taken a strong position in favour of protesters.
Vilnius and Warsaw swiftly imposed sanctions following the presidential election, alongside Latvia and Estonia, and Lithuania is now sheltering the prominent Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius said in a statement on Saturday: “Our goal is to maintain diplomatic contact [with Belarus] to the maximum extent.”
“We also sent this message to the Belarusian side, with which we have agreed so far that a temporary leave of our Ambassadors for consultations would help to reduce tensions and to maintain diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level,” he added.
He also expressed gratitude “to our EU counterparts for their solidarity”.
Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Romania, and Slovakia have all already temporarily recalled their ambassadors.
The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, described Minsk’s demand on Poland and Lithuania as “unfounded and regrettable”.
“It goes against the logic of dialogue and will only further isolate the authorities in Minsk.
“Attempts by Belarusian authorities to target certain EU Member states will not succeed in weakening EU unity,” he added.
In a statement issued on Friday following a telephone conversation with Borrell, the Belarusian foreign ministry said its demand on Poland and Lithuania aimed to achieve “parity in diplomatic missions” and that it “did not target the EU and wasn’t aimed to curtail dialogue with the European Union.”
“It was provoked by an especially negative role that the leaders of these countries adopted towards Belarus,” it argued.
Two months after the election, the protest movement in Belarus remains strong. Some 120,000 people denounced Lukashenko’s reelection and called for the release of political prisoners in a mass protest in minks on October 4. Similar demonstrations were held across the country.
According to the Viasna NGO, more than 250 people were arrested in the protests.