Sweden’s ambassador to Belarus was expelled and the Stockholm government retaliated by ousting two Belorussian diplomats in a spat that began with reports of a mass drop of teddy bears over the eastern European nation.
The Nordic country will inform the Belorussian embassy in the Swedish capital that the new ambassador to Sweden won’t be welcome and that two other representatives will have their credentials revoked, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said today in a statement.
“The Lukashenko-regime’s expulsion of Sweden’s ambassador to Belarus is a big breach against the norms for relations between states,” Bildt said. “The accusations that the regime has directed at the ambassador are completely baseless. That Sweden is very much engaged to promote democracy and human rights in Belarus is no secret.”
Belorussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko last month fired the border-guard and air-force chiefs after saying Swedish pilots flew a small airplane from Lithuania to Belarus on July 4, dropping teddy-bears with signs calling for free speech over Minsk, according to a statement last month on his office’s website. The pilots were able to return to a Lithuanian airport without being intercepted and posted video footage of their flight on the Internet.
Tomas Mazetti, from Swedish public relations agency Studio Total, said he was one of the pilots and that the action to drop 800 fluffy toys over towns and villages in Belarus was meant to promote support for the political opposition in the country. He refuted media reports, including from weekly trade publication Resume, that the action had been a hoax and had not actually occurred.
“Belarus’s government has even admitted,” he said in a phone interview. “There’s no longer any doubt about that particular thing.”
Major General Igor Rachkovskiy, chairman of the Border Committee, and Major General Dmitry Pakhmelkin, Air Force and Anti-Aircraft Force commander, were dismissed “for failing to fulfill their duties in ensuring national security,” the presidential press service said July 31 in an e-mailed statement.
The RIA Novosti news agency today reported that Ambassador Stefan Eriksson’s accreditation hadn’t been renewed, citing the Belorussian Foreign Ministry.
On his Twitter feed, Bildt called the expulsion “outrageous.” In comments to the TT news agency, Bildt said the spat with Belarus had been brewing for some time and that the reported teddy bear drop had not been mentioned in the decision to oust Eriksson.