President Reuven Rivlin sent his Belarusian counterpart Aleksander Lukashenko a letter on Saturday’s Independence Day. Apparently he is one of the few Western heads of state who congratulates the authoritarian leader, who is considered a dictator.
In the letter, Rivlin congratulated “Your Excellency” Lukashenko and the Belarusian people on the holiday that marked the liberation of the capital Minsk by the Soviet armed forces from Nazi occupation in 1944.
“I send our best wishes for your personal well-being and for the continued progress and prosperity of your country and people,” wrote Rivlin in the letter.
Rivlin promoted the “long history together” between the two nations, mentioning prominent Israeli leaders born in what is now Belarus, including Israel’s first president Chaim Weizmann and former prime ministers Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir.
“The community of former Belarusian citizens in Israel serves as a human bridge that strengthens relations between our countries,” said the president.
Rivlin added: “Allow me once again, on this auspicious occasion, to send our greetings to everyone in Belarus and to wish you good health and success in dealing with the health and economic challenges of the past year.”
שנה של דיכוי מזעזע של זכויות האדם בבלרוס, לא מנעה מנשיא המדינה @ PresidentRuvi הודעה המברכת את הנשיא לרגל יום העצמאות שחל אתמול. הנשיא נמסר לשעה הבינלאומית האגרת שוגרה הנוהל הנהוג במשרד החוץ בימים לאומיים מדינות עימן יש קשרים. תודה @SBogus pic.twitter.com/54dBTM2Ksp
– ???? ️ ???? ערן סיקורל | Eran Cicurel | عيران شيكوريل (@EranCicurel) 4th July 2021
Rivlin’s office said in response to criticism on social media that the letter was sent in accordance with State Department protocol for the national holiday of any country with which Israel has diplomatic relations. The two countries established official relations in 1992 after Belarus gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In addition to Rivlin, said the public broadcaster Kan, Lukashenko also received congratulations from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Pope Francis and the leaders of Russia, China, Serbia, Turkey, Iran, Cuba, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Nicaragua and the Palestinian Authority, along with others.
Belarus was rocked by protests fueled by Lukashenko’s re-election to a sixth term in the August 2020 elections, which were widely viewed as rigged. Authorities responded to the demonstrations with a massive raid in which more than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands were beaten by police.
Lukashenko, who ruled the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million inhabitants with an iron fist for 27 years, has repeatedly accused the West of fomenting protests and plotting to evict him.
On Friday, Lukashenko claimed his government had foiled a number of alleged West-backed conspiracies after the EU imposed a series of new painful sanctions on Belarus last month when fighter jets forced a passenger jet to land in the country to pick up a dissident journalist.
The latest sanctions target the country’s major exports, including potash – a common fertilizer ingredient, petroleum products, and tobacco industry exports.