Belarus Ends Efforts to Stop Migration to EU, Bans Some EU Officials from Country

Belarus ended efforts to stop illegal migration to the European Union (EU) and banned some EU officials from its borders on Monday in response to sanctions, the Associated Press reported.

Belarus' Foreign Ministry said it is suspending a readmission agreement with the EU aimed at stopping the flow of illegal migration. It also said EU officials involved with drafting sanctions against Belarus will be banned from the country, without naming those to be banned.

The EU issued economic sanctions on Belarus on Thursday over its forced diversion of a Ryanair flight to apprehend a journalist in May.

"We note with deep regret that the forced suspension of the agreement will have a negative impact on cooperation with the EU in the field of combating illegal migration and organized crime," Belarus' Foreign Ministry said.

The Belarusian government is asking the EU's representative, Dirk Schuebel, in the capital city of Minsk to leave.

For more reporting for the Associated Press, see below.

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko
Belarus ended efforts to stop illegal migration to the European Union (EU) and banned some EU officials from its borders on Monday in response to sanctions. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko denounced the sanctions as part of a "hybrid war" waged by the West against Belarus. Above, Lukashenko speaks during a rally of his supporters in Independence Square. Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

The EU sanctions on Belarus target the country's top export items, including potash—a common fertilizer ingredient, petroleum products and tobacco industry exports.

Belarus' authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has denounced the EU sanctions as part of a "hybrid war" waged by the West against Belarus.

The announcement of Belarus' retaliatory actions follows Lukashenko's warning that his country will no longer try to stem a flow of illegal migrants to the EU.

Earlier this month, officials in Lithuania accused Belarus of opening the doors for migrants to cross their shared 680-kilometer (420-mile) border.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said it will recall its envoy to the EU for consultations.

In addition to that, Belarus will suspend its participation in the EU's Eastern Partnership program, which was intended to strengthen cooperation with several ex-Soviet nations.

Belarus has been rocked by months of protests fueled by Lukashenko's reelection to a sixth term in an August 2020 election that was widely seen as rigged. Authorities responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate in the August election who was forced to leave the country after the vote under official pressure, criticized the government's move to halt the country's involvement in the Eastern Partnership and said her team will continue to cooperate closely with the EU.

"My team and all democratic forces will continue to work with our European partners and will do everything to make sure that our country is represented by those who really have the right to speak on people's behalf," Tsikhanouskaya said. "The Eastern Partnership is a program that opens a lot of opportunities for our country, including education, contacts with people and new political and economic links. Lukashenko wants to deprive the Belarusians of all that."

The 27-nation bloc had previously banned the Belarusian flag carrier from EU skies and airports and ordered EU airlines to skirt Belarusian airspace over the May 23 incident when Belarus diverted a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania and ordered it land in Minsk where journalist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend were arrested.

Last week, Pratasevich, who faces a possible 15 years in prison, and Sofia Sapega were transferred from jail to house arrest—a move the opposition said was positive but still left them "hostages."

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
Belarus ended efforts to stop illegal migration to the European Union (EU) and banned some EU officials from its borders on Monday in response to sanctions. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko denounced the sanctions as part of a "hybrid war" waged by the West against Belarus. Above, Lukashenko attends a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in World War II in the Brest Fortress memorial, 225 miles southwest of Minsk, on June 22, 2021. Maxim Guchek/BelTA Pool Photo via AP