The European Union's strategy against the administration of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko hasn't worked, says the country's exiled opposition leader.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was speaking via video on Wednesday to the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, said that the bloc's approach has so far failed and called upon MEPs to increase the pressure on Minsk.
Authorities claimed it was due to a security alert but others believe it was a ruse to arrest journalist Roman Protasevich.
"The previous EU strategy of wait and see towards the Belarusian regime doesn't work," Tsikhanouskaya told MEPs. "The EU approach of gradually elevated pressure against the Lukashenko regime hasn't managed to change its behaviour and only lead to a growing sense of impunity and massive repression.
"Now, I call on the European Parliament to make sure that the reaction of the international community is not limited to the Ryanair flight incident.
"The response must address the situation in Belarus in its entirety or we will all face such situations in the future as Lukashenko is turning my country into the North Korea of Europe: non-transparent, unpredictable and dangerous."
Lukashenko stands defiant
In his first public remarks since Sunday, Lukashenko stood defiant, accusing his "ill-wishers" of having "crossed many red lines".
"As we predicted, our ill-wishers from outside the country and from inside the country changed their methods of attack on the state," Lukashenko told parliament on Wednesday.
"They have crossed many red lines and have abandoned common sense and human morals," he said.
The leader claimed that Protasevich had planned a “bloody rebellion”, but gave no evidence for or details around the claim.
He also accused the West of waging a "hybrid war" against him.
Tsikhanouskaya said she believes Russia is part of the problem when it comes to Belarus and that the bloc should make it clear that any financial deals with the Lukashenko regime cannot be allowed to happen.
"Communicate in clear language to Russia and other states willing to abuse the victims of Lukashenko that any agreement or contract signed with him will be reviewed and might be nullified. I call on the EU to deny any kind of financial support or governmental requests and refrain from all new foreign investments in Belarus and new credit lines to Belarusian banks," Tsikhanouskaya said.
This view was echoed by Petras Auštrevičius, a Lithuanian MEP who sits on the delegation responsible for relations with Belarus.
"We have to give a very clear message to Moscow that they might pay even a price if they stand behind Lukashenko, a brutal dictator who simply intimidates and prosecutes his own people and becomes a threat to the regional security, as happed with the Ryanair commercial plane," Auštrevičius told Euronews.