Shortly after a public relations firm airdropped hundreds of teddy bears with parachutes and pro-democracy slogans over Belarus in early July, Belarus decided not to renew the accreditation of Sweden’s ambassador, Stefan Eriksson, sparking criticism that the decision amounted to expelling him over the teddy bear incident.
Sweden responded by ousting from Stockholm the Belarusian ambassador and two embassy officials.
On Wednesday, Belarus’s Foreign Ministry said that the rest of its embassy staff is being pulled back home because Sweden expelled the two diplomats and refused to allow an ambassador of the former Soviet nation to replace the withdrawn one.
“In this regard the Belarusian side is compelled to take a decision to recall its embassy in Sweden and to return its entire staff to the Republic of Belarus. Appropriate action is already being taken,” the ministry stated.
Belarus, a landlocked country situated next to Russia and Ukraine, requested that Sweden recall its embassy staff before their credentials are revoked by the end of the month.
Last month, hard-line President Alexander Lukashenko—who heads “really the last true remaining dictatorship in the heart of Europe,” according to former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2005—fired his air force chief after Swedish pilots flew a plane into the country’s airspace and dropped the bears, Reuters reported.The incident, which was chartered on behalf of pro-democracy group Charter 97, was recorded and posted on YouTube.
In fallout of the incident, Freedom House said that Belarusian college student Anton Suryapin was arrested for posting photographs of the teddy bear drop and has been declared a prisoner of conscience. He could face a seven-year jail term.
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