Member of the European Parliament Urmas Paet (Reform) says that European countries should reduce all possible contacts with the regime of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, and one way to do that is to send Belarusian diplomats out of the country. The strong potential actions against Belarus arise from the Belarusian government's diverting a Vilnius-bound commercial flight in order to arrest an opposition journalist on Sunday, May 23.
Authorities in the Latvian capital, Riga, have already exchanged the official red-green national flag of Belarus for the white-red-white national flag flown by protesters at the regime, at the World Ice Hockey Championships on Monday, and in response, Belarus expelled all Latvian embassy staff. Latvia riposted by doing the same, and has also left the white-red-white flag up the pole and removed the ice hockey governing body's flag instead, after the authority protested.
Latvia shares a border with Belarus.
Paet told ETV current affairs show "Esimene stuudio" that he was not sure whether Estonia should join in with the Latvian action, however.
"We do not currently have a large and visible international event where we could throw the gauntlet down. It can be done, but it has already had an impact as a one-off action at a major international sporting event," he said, referring to the Riga incident.
At the same time, Paet said that Estonia, and the rest of Europe could think about what to do with the state presence of Belarus in their countries.
"If now, after this flag story, the employees of the Latvian embassy were forced to leave Belarus and vice versa, then nothing has actually been done with the diplomatic missions of Belarus or Lukashenko in European countries. I would rather see that it would be right when all European countries stood against it as one," Paet said.
Paet: Belarus feels Russia's support
Paet hopes that the sanctions and restrictions on Belarus agreed at the European Council on Monday will all be done quickly, but he acknowledged that there may be many obstacles.
He himself considers it very important that the actions of the Belarussian authorities reach the international court.
"Then it's not just political, the EU versus Belarus or the west versus an authoritarian regime, it's still an assessment of the substance of international law," he said.
Paet said that Russian support gave the Belarusian authorities the courage to land the plane.
"It is also clear that Belarus is not acting alone, it is not beating its people on the streets simply because it seems right to Lukashenko. This plane was not taken down without the realization that there is actually someone backing that. And it is clear that Russia is backing Belarus today, because the leaders of Russia don't want to see that it's possible to take down a dictator just because the public wishes it so. And this is what Belarus senses," Paet said.
Editor: Roberta Vaino