Belarus-EU Dispute: French Ambassador Withdrawn After Refusing to Present Credentials

By Fayçal Benhassain | October 21, 2021 | 6:59pm EDT
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. (Photo by Dmitry Astakhov/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. (Photo by Dmitry Astakhov/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Paris (CNSNews.com) – Amid on ongoing dispute over the legitimacy of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election last summer, France withdrew its ambassador from Minsk this week after the authorities made it difficult for him to carry out his functions.

Belarus in turn has recalled its ambassador from Paris.

French Ambassador Nicolas de Lacoste had earlier refused to present his credentials to Lukashenko – the usual protocol when an ambassador begins a posting abroad – because the European Union and France do not recognize Lukashenko’s election win.

The autocratic leader who has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1994 is under E.U. and U.S. sanctions over his crackdown on protests against his re-election, which included the imprisonment of opposition leaders.

The French foreign ministry said de Lacoste left Belarus on Sunday, after authorities took the “unilateral” step of withdrawing their approval for his post, which had been issued to him in August 2020, three weeks after the disputed election.

The ministry said the Belarus decision to withdrawal its approval followed several other “negative” actions which limited de Lacoste’s ability to carry out his duties in Minsk.

It did not elaborate on these “negative” actions that impeded the ambassador’s work.

In a televised farewell message to the Belarusian people, de Lacoste said his time in Belarus had been “difficult but unforgettable.”

“As you know, France did not recognize the result of the August 9, 2020 election, and I did not hand over my credentials,” he said. “Never give up hope for better days.”

De Lacoste, an expert on Eastern Europe, served at the French Embassy in Moscow from 2012-2016. He is expected to continue a role of special envoy to Belarus, from France.

Tensions between Belarus and the E.U. worsened after the Lukashenko regime last May forced a commercial aircraft flying from Athens to Vilnius to change its route and land in Minsk, where Raman Pratasevich, a journalist and opposition activist onboard, was arrested.

Belarus’ diplomatic relations with other E.U. countries have also been affected by the dispute. It expelled Latvian diplomats in March in a row over Latvian support for the Belarusian opposition, and Poland and Lithuania withdrew their ambassador (after Mink recalled its envoys from Warsaw and Vilnius).

More recently, the E.U. has accused Belarus of encouraging illegal migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere to cross its borders into neighboring E.U. member-states Lithuania and Poland.

Atlantic Council non-resident fellow Hanna Liubakova, who is from Belarus, said the row over the ambassador was a strong sign of French solidarity with the people of Belarus, adding that President Emmanuel Macron has done much to support the pro-democracy movement in Belarus.

“Macron was one of the first leaders of the E.U. to meet with exiled Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in Paris,” she said during a debate on France 24 television.

“So why should an ambassador go and present his credentials to the illegitimate leader that his country didn’t recognize?”

During her meeting with Macron, Tikhanovskaya – who is now based in Lithuania – urged France to play the role of mediator between the opposition and the regime.

Rasa Jujneviciene, a Lithuanian member of European Parliament, expressed her country’s appreciation to France for its act of “solidarity.”

“Thanks for solidarity from an E.U. country, as we have a big problem in the middle of European continent, a dictatorship which is so brutal,” she said.

Jujneviciene said it was well known that Lukashenko was “orchestrating” the cross-border migration, which is causing serious difficulties for Lithuania and Poland. Belarus refuses to take back the migrants when authorities in Lithuania and Poland try to expel them.

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