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Belarusian law enforcement personnel walk in a camp near Bruzgi-Kuznica checkpoint on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region of Belarus on Nov. 18.KACPER PEMPEL/Reuters

The foreign-affairs envoy for Belarus’ exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya paid a visit to Ottawa this week to ask the Canadian government to exert more economic pressure on the Eastern European country whose President used violence last year to stifle protests over a disputed election.

Valery Kavaleuski warned that if the West cannot bring about change in Belarus – where President Alexander Lukashenko has so far weathered pushback over a discredited vote that returned him to power in 2020 – then it will be forced to deal with more “manufactured crises” such as the thousands of migrants who have been thronging the European Union’s eastern border.

“He is a master survivor and divider. He knows the tools he can use to divide the international community,” the Belarus opposition envoy said, adding that Mr. Lukashenko has also threatened to stop intercepting the trafficking of drugs, weapons and nuclear materials passing through his country to the European Union. “He can go as dark as he can imagine.”

European countries have accused Belarus of weaponizing migration by flying in migrants from the Middle East and pushing them to attempt to illegally cross its borders into Poland and Lithuania. On Thursday, the Group of Seven industrialized countries, including Canada, issued a statement condemning the “Belarusian regime’s orchestration of irregular migration across its borders” and describing it as a form of irregular warfare. “We are united in our solidarity with Poland, as well as with Lithuania and Latvia, which have been targeted by this provocative use of irregular migration as a hybrid tactic,” the G7 said.

A hybrid tactic or attack refers to unconventional methods used to disrupt or destabilize opponents. Other examples include cyberattacks or disinformation campaigns.

Mr. Kavaleuski was in Ottawa Wednesday and Thursday, where he met with officials at the department of Global Affairs, the Privy Council Office and foreign embassies. The former diplomat for Belarus is heading to the Halifax International Security Forum that starts in Nova Scotia’s capital Friday.

He’s asking Canada to expand its sanctions on Belarus. Sanctions prohibit Canadian financial institutions from providing services to targeted individuals, officials or companies and freeze any assets they hold in Canada. They can also prohibit trade with sectors of a target’s economy. When applied in concert with allies, they can hamper efforts by those sanctioned to move funds to safe countries.

To date, Canada – in concert with the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom – has targeted dozens of top Belarusian civil and military figures alleged to be involved in human rights violations in the wake of the disputed election. Canada has also targeted specific companies believed to generate money for the Belarus government, including an air navigation services company, an oil company, a logistics company and two automobile plants. It has also imposed some sanctions targeting specific sectors, such as oil and gas and finance.

Mr. Kavaleuski said he would like to see more action on Belarusian banks, for instance.

“The banking industry is rather vulnerable in Belarus – about five state-owned banks control about 70 per cent of the financial market – so if they are sanctioned, it would be a serious impact.”

Toronto lawyer John Boscariol, head of McCarthy Tétrault’s trade and investment group, said it’s certainly possible for Canada to go further, including more sector-based sanctions. “If the Canadian government really wanted to get aggressive, they could put in a financial-services ban, which would prohibit Canadians from providing financial services to, or for, the benefit of anyone in Belarus, as has been done in the past with Iran and is currently in place for Syria and North Korea. That becomes a really broad measure.”

Belarus’ opposition is also asking Canada to offer further assistance to civil-society activists and independent journalists, many of whom have been forced to flee to countries such as Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Georgia, where they try to shine a light on the Lukashenko government’s failings. “If they don’t, either propaganda will fill the void, or the Russians will,” Mr. Kavaleuski said.

They also express the hope that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would agree to meet with Belarusian advocates for democracy at international meetings as part of an effort to “remind the world of the Belarus crisis and also to throw its diplomatic and political international weight behind the aspirations of Belarusians for democratic change.”

With a report from Reuters

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