Belarus tells Estonia to reduce embassy staff over UN meeting

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Protesters called for free elections outside the Belarusian Embassy in Tallinn on June 29.
Protesters called for free elections outside the Belarusian Embassy in Tallinn on June 29. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Belarusian Embassy in Tallinn handed a note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday telling Estonia to reduce its diplomatic staff in Belarus to a minimum after it hosted a meeting to support the country's opposition.

A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Belarus linked the decision to an event organized by Estonia this week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York to support the Belarusian opposition.

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya attended at Estonia's invitation.

The note said the number of diplomats will be reduced to a minimum in both countries' embassies.  

Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said this reaction shows the criminal face of the Belarusian regime all the more clearly.

"Estonia will always support the democratic aspirations of the opposition and civil society in Belarus to make sure the violations of human rights and international law do not go unnoticed," Reinsalu emphasized.

He added that additional pressure must be put on Alexander Lukashenko's regime.

"The Belarusian authorities have also been accomplices in Russia's brutal war against Ukraine, already in its seventh month. This is why we must ramp up the sanctions against the regime, continue isolating the country internationally and work towards legal accountability because the Lukashenko regime must not feel it has impunity," the minister said.

"We take note of the decision of Belarus on reducing embassy staff and will respond in a manner we see fit," Reinsalu said.

"Provocations"

A statement from the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it summoned Estonia's Charge d'Affaires Triin Hiesalu on Friday.

The Ministry said it had analyzed Estonia's recent actions and regards as "provocations against the sovereignty and independence of our country".

"Including official attempts to appropriate the right to speak on behalf of the Belarusian people and adventures at the UN site," it wrote in a statement.

"Respect for these principles, as well as non-interference in each other's internal affairs, is the basic basis for normal bilateral relations between any states," it continued.

Given Estonia's "disrespectful attitude" Belarus now "does not see the point of a broad diplomatic presence of Estonia on its territory".

The ministry said from October 1, staff numbers should be reduced in both diplomatic missions to two members of staff each.

"The Belarusian side will take all necessary measures so that the populist actions of official Tallinn do not affect the real interests of ordinary citizens of Belarus and Estonia, including in terms of consular support. Minsk will continue its line of maintaining traditionally good neighborly relations with the friendly Estonian people," the ministry wrote.

It added, diplomatic relations will be restored when "the Estonian leadership returns to the civilized, universally recognized principles of interstate communication and mutually respectful dialogue."

Editor's note: This article was updated to add comments from the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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