The UK, the European Union, United States and Canada on Monday hit Belarus with sanctions for the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk and the arrest of Roman Protasevich, a dissident journalist aboard the plane.
“We are united in our deep concern regarding the Lukashenko regime’s continuing attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms, and international law,” the allies said in a joint statement.
“We are committed to support the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus and we stand together to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments."
The allies ordered Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian president, who has led a brutal crackdown on dissent after rigged elections in August last year, to cooperate with an investigation into the ‘hijack’ of the flight by a military plane on May 23.
"We will hold the regime to account in coordination with our allies including through further banning travel, freezing assets and cutting off oil export revenue streams," said Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary.
He accused Mr Lukashenko, who is often referred to as "Europe’s last dictator", of endangering the lives of passengers on board the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius in a “shameful ruse to snatch” Mr Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega.
He warned that Britain would prepare economic sanctions to ratchet up pressure on Mr Lukashenko, who the UK has already hit with restrictive measures.
Who is Roman Protasevich
EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg agreed to draw up further economic measures, which are expected to be backed by the bloc’s heads of state and government at a summit later this week.
Austria said the sanctions, expected to target key exports such as potash and petrol, would "tighten the thumbscrews" on the Belarusian government.
The UK imposed travel bans and asset freezes against seven senior officials in the repressive Belarusian regime and against BNK, an exporter of oil products.
The US Treasury Department said it blacklisted 16 people and five entities in response to the Lukashenko government’s "escalating violence and repression.”
Monday’s EU sanctions against the regime cover 78 Belarusian nationals and eight entities, including seven people accused of involvement in the forced landing. A total of 166 people and 15 entities are now under EU restrictive measures.
The Belarusian defence and transport minister and its air force commander as well as judges and lawmakers were among those targeted by the sanctions.
Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said after the announcement: “We have to end the situation in our country, we don’t want it to become North Korea."
She spoke to the EU ministers at the meeting and showed them a bullet extracted from the lungs of an opposition activist after he was evacuated to the Czech Republic for treatment.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, said Ms Tsikhanouskaya had provided ministers with a list of state-owned enterprises that were supporting the regime.
He denied the sanctions would push Mr Lukashenko closer to Russia’s Vladmir Putin. He said, “We believe it can influence the behaviour,” but admitted that was not guaranteed.
More than 500 people,including Mr Lukashenko’s political rivals, are in jail. At least 2,300 more people are facing criminal charges for simply taking part in the protests.
"This is an important message that Belarusians are not alone," Ms Tsikhanouskaya said of the joint Western action. “This is also an important signal for all accomplices of the regime: there is no impunity any longer."
The head of the notorious Belarusian prison where hundreds were beaten and tortured is among those blacklisted by the EU.
The odd one out on the list is Mikhail Gutseriev, a Russian oil tycoon known for his close ties to Mr Lukashenko.
Mr Gutseriev has had business dealings in Belarus for years and bought Mr Lukashenko a limousine and a private jet.
Among those targeted by Washington were Nikolai Karpenkov, a police commander who personally chased unarmed demonstrators and even broke a window of a coffee shop that was sheltering the protesters.
Another was Ivan Tertel, the KGB chief, who dismissed Mr Protasevich, as a terrorist.
When asked about the unarmed protester who was shot dead by security forces in Minsk last August, Mr Tertel said that the man was “too brazen” standing in front of the troops.
Belarus sovereign dollar bonds tumbled on Monday in response to the announcements.