Crackdown in Belarus needs united transatlantic response

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.

From John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, the Washington Post:  Since the patently unfair and undemocratic presidential election on Dec. 19, Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian ruler of Belarus, has reminded his countrymen and the world that the post-Cold War vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace remains sadly unfulfilled. For more than a month, Lukashenko’s agents have fanned out to beat, arrest or intimidate opponents of his government in an effort to suppress any spark of disobedience. …

European and American officials have attempted to engage the Belarusan government since 2008 in hopes of encouraging Lukashenko to improve his government’s practices and prevent the further isolation and oppression of his people. We believe in the utility of diplomatic engagement, but when one side turns its back on progress, it demands a reaction. Developments since last month’s election indicate the present limits of engagement with Lukashenko and point up the need for a new approach.

Geography gives the European Union greater economic and political influence in Belarus than the United States has. For this reason, we are encouraged by the commendable job Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done coordinating with her E.U. counterpart, High Representative Catherine Ashton. In our response to the crackdown in Belarus, the transatlantic world should speak with one voice. …

Belarus can and should be a prosperous and free country like its neighbors. In their hour of need, the Belarusan people must know that the United States and Europe stand united on their side, while Lukashenko and his government must be made to pay real and serious costs for their authoritarianism and repression. When E.U. foreign ministers meet Monday to discuss Belarus, we hope they know the time has arrived for strong, principled transatlantic action.

John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Joe Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut, is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.  (photo: Reuters)

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