MOSCOW (Reuters) -Belarus on Monday told the European Union’s representative in Minsk to return to Brussels for consultations and said it would stop helping the 27-nation bloc combat illegal migration as retaliation against EU sanctions.
The EU last week imposed wide-ranging economic sanctions on Belarus targeting its main export industries and access to finance over its interception of a Ryanair flight last month.
Belarusian authorities intercepted the flight, from Athens to Vilnius, on May 23 and arrested dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega who were on board, sparking international outrage.
The Belarusian foreign ministry set out its response to the EU sanctions on Monday and said it was recalling its own permanent representative to Brussels for consultations.
It announced an entry ban on EU officials responsible for the sanctions and said it was working on economic retaliatory measures against the bloc.
“We hope that EU officials and those from its member states are aware of the damage and futility of using a forceful approach in their relations with Belarus,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The European Commission said Belarus was taking another step into self-isolation by requesting the head of the EU delegation be recalled to Brussels.
“Keeping channels of communication open is crucial in times of crisis. This has always been our intention,” a spokesperson for the European Commission said.
The foreign ministry in Minsk added that Belarus was suspending its participation in the EU’s Eastern Partnership, an initiative that aims to deepen the EU’s ties with neighbouring former communist countries.
The European Commission expressed its regret over this step, calling it another demonstration of the Minsk regime’s disregard for the Belarusian people, who benefited from the cooperation.
Belarus said it would also suspend an agreement with the EU on procedures to readmit people who illegally cross the border.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Polina Ivanova; Writing by Alexander Marrow/Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Cynthia Osterman)