Rishi Sunak warned of risk of handing funds to ‘terrorist regime’ as Belarus gets £ 720m IMF loan facility
Belarusian democracy campaigners have accused Britain and other western countries of “hypocrisy” after they waved through a global financial support package potentially worth $ 1bn (£ 720m) to the country’s tyrannical regime.
It has emerged that the day before Prime Minister Boris Johnson met Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on Tuesday and pledged “we are very much on your side”, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $ 650bn (£ 469bn) emergency package to help countries struggling to cope with the economic impact of the pandemic.
Belarus and its de facto dictator Alexander Lukashenko are in principle entitled to 0.14 per cent of the package – equivalent to about $ 1bn – and campaigners have charged Britain with not backing its words with action by failing to move to ensure that the funds do not reach the increasingly emboldened and brutal Belarusian regime.
The call for the funding to be withheld has been backed by a cross-party group of MPs and peers led by Labor MP Tony Lloyd, who have written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak warning that if the funds reach the Belarusian government they will “go into the hands of a terrorist regime ”.
The Professional Union of Belarusians in Britain, which campaigns against the Lukashenko regime, said: “It is immoral for the international community to give funding to the Lukashenko regime while its human rights abuses are widely documented and confirmed.
“It is hypocritical for Britain and other western governments to meet with Svietlana Tikhanouskaya and offer words of support, while at the same time voting in the IMF for this funding to be made available to the Lukashenko regime.”
The Treasury said on Sunday that the funding package – known as Special Drawing Rights or SDRs – was designed to be “unconditional” to help vulnerable countries around the world recovering from the pandemic. It added that the UK had already brought sanctions against Belarus for human rights violations.
The east European country was convulsed by protests last year after a disputed election widely held to have been won by Ms Tsikhanouskaya. The subsequent crackdown, which has seen the arrest of 35,000 Belarusians, has spiralled into a series of outrages, including the effective state hijacking of a Ryanair flight in May in order to arrest an opposition activist.
The growing conclusion in western capitals that Belarus is fast becoming a rogue nation on the borders of the European Union was underlined last week when critical Belarusian sprinter Krystina Tsimanouskaya sought asylum in Poland’s Japanese embassy during the Tokyo Olympics after apparently being threatened with reprisals when she reached home. Hours later it was announced that another opposition activist, Vitali Shishov, had been found hanged in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
The IMF, an international body with a remit to bolster global financial stability, said that the new SDR package was intended to a “shot in the arm for the global economy” by bolstering global money reserves. It comes into in effect on 23 August.
Campaigners and parliamentarians are calling on Britain and its allies to follow the precedent set in 2019 when the IMF withheld access by Venezuela to some $ 400m on the grounds that it did not recognize its de facto Nicolas Maduro as the country’s legitimate leader following a heavily disputed election.
Britain has already said that Mr Lukashenko is only in power because of a rigged election and it does not accept the results.
In a letter to Mr Sunak, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Belarus, consisting of nine MPs and peers, demanded that the Chancellor stop the IMF funds reaching the Belarusian government. It said: “This IMF money cannot be given to the Lukashenko regime. Lukashenko does not legitimately represent Belarusian people and he does not act in the interests of the Belarusian people. The money will go into the hands of a terrorist regime that the UK has consistently condemned. ”
The Treasury said that Britain has led calls from G7 nations to ensure that the $ 650bn package should be accompanied by “transparency and accountability measures”. It added that the UK also retained the right to refuse individual countries the right to cash in their SDR allocation under so-called voluntary trading agreements.
A Treasury spokesperson said: “The UK Government is committed to taking action against those responsible for the suppression of democracy and we have already brought sanctions against Belarus in response to human rights violations.”