Lavish birthday trips to Michelin-starred restaurants in France, skiing in Austria, and sunbathing in Italy — leaked flight data show how the family of ruthless Belarusian president Aleksander Lukashenko lived la dolce vita in Europe.
Meanwhile, jailed opposition leader, Maria Kolesnikova, was taken into intensive care in hospital in Belarus, her relatives said on Wednesday (30 November).
* Anna Lukashenko’s brother-in-law, Volodomyr Kulakov, at the l’Atelier d’Edmond restaurant in France in 2018 (Photo: instagram.com)
She is one of thousands of victims of Lukashenko’s crackdown against people who rejected his fake re-election in 2020 — an ongoing horror show that risks being forgotten amid the daily headlines of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Lukashenko himself, his two adult sons Dmitry and Viktor, as well as Viktor’s wife Liliya, are all on EU visa-ban and asset-freeze lists.
But the president’s youngest son, Kolya (a student), Dmitry’s wife Anna Lukashenko, and several minor relatives haven’t been blacklisted.
And as Anna’s dictator father-in-law continues to inflict misery on people like Kolesnikova, the leaked flight records show the kind of luxury that the ruling clan likes to enjoy in the heart of Europe, given the chance.
In one trip in January 2018, for instance, Anna, her sister, and their families flew to the French Alps for 11 days, from where they posted a picture in the two-Michelin star restaurant, the l’Atelier d’Edmond in Val-d’Isère, where a boozy dinner, containing delicacies such as frog’s legs in horseradish, costs over €400 per person.
In 2017, Anna and her family also went skiing in Innsbruck (Austria), celebrated her birthday in a 25-day long splurge in Cagliari (Italy) on a private jet, and visited the five-star Banana Island Resort in Doha.
The flight data, covering the period 2011 to 2019, was obtained by Belarusian hacker-activists Cyber Partisans and published by a group of journalists in exile called the Belarusian Investigative Center.
The cost of the 2017 and 2018 trips alone would be at least €480,000 — way beyond Anna and her husband’s declared joint incomes of some €80,000, the Belarusian Investigative Center noted, in a glaring sign of regime corruption.
It is unknown what Anna is doing these days or if she and her entourage still use their EU travel perks.
But records show that in 2018 and 2020 she used to work in BelAZ Trading House, which sells Belarusian trucks and machine parts in Russia.
Her husband Dmitry is chairman of the state-public association, the Presidential Sports Club, which EU sanctions documents describe as a front for Lukashenko-family business interests.
Anna’s sister and brother-in-law (Tatiana Kulakova and Volodymyr Kulakov) are also in the family firm.
Tatiana, who often holidayed in the EU with Anna, works for a state-funded TV production company, while Volodymyr runs the Tennis Club part of Dmitry Lukashenko’s sports empire.
Tatiana also has a small chain of clothes shops, one of which is located in the same mall as Liliya Lukashenko’s art gallery in Minsk.
Meanwhile, Anna’s travel to EU cities over the years also included Barcelona, Ljubljana, Frankfurt, Munich, Pisa, Thessaloniki, and Vienna, the flight data showed.
And some of the trips highlighted the Lukashenko family’s business ties in Europe.
In 2017, for instance, Anna and her husband Dmitry flew home from a birthday trip in Cagliari to Minsk with a Slovenian businessman, Zivorad Smiljković from the Ljubljana-based firm Riko, which has won millions of dollars of construction contracts in Belarus.
In 2019, Smiljković also flew with Lukashenko’s closest relatives from Sion (Switzerland) to the Belarusian capital.
But not all of the dictator’s associates are so lucky.
Lukashenko’s presidential jet, a VIP-model of a Boeing-767, has golden toilet bowls, Belarusian activists revealed in 2021.
But when Lukashenko visited Yerevan last week, his long-serving foreign minister, Viktor Makai, flew home on a cargo plane, amid overboard temperatures of minus 60 degrees Celsius and in onboard temperatures of no more than 10 degrees Celsius.
Makai can be seen rubbing his cold, anxious hands together in an interview with the CTV.by broadcaster one week ago — shortly before he died, suddenly, on 26 November.
The EU last updated its Belarus sanctions, which also includes economic measures, in March on grounds of Belarus’ “role in the Russian military aggression of Ukraine”.
Its previous sanctions covered people responsible for “unacceptable violence against peaceful protesters” and those “closely connected with a number of high-profile companies which have benefited from the Lukashenko regime”.
“The existing sanctions on Belarus are reviewed regularly in light of the developments on the ground,” an EU foreign service spokesman said, when asked if any further blacklistings were in the pipeline.
The Belarusian opposition in exile in Estonia has also circulated a dossier to EU diplomats, seen by EUobserver, calling for “more devastating economic sanctions” and for Europe to “find and freeze assets of Lukashenko’s family and its wallets”.
But in fact, not much is happening on Lukashenko in Brussels.
“There’s no proposal [for more Belarus sanctions] on the table. We’re talking about the next Russia sanctions package, but there’s nothing on Belarus,” an EU diplomat said.
Another EU source said: “Even the new Russia sanctions are moving ahead like a slow nosebleed, due to fatigue, which is reprehensible given the level of ordinary people’s suffering”.
The EU embassy in Minsk was making enquiries about the health of Kolesnikova, the jailed opposition leader, the source said, in what they called “silent diplomacy”.
Asked what would have to happen in Belarus to trigger a further round of EU measures, the source added: “Let’s pray nothing happens because people there already can’t breathe anyway”.
But if there was to be another round, it would likely target the remaining “flowers” of the regime clan, as well as sanctions circumventers, propagandists, and law-enforcement officials, the EU source added.
Lukashenko’s student son, Kolya, would never be targeted because of his youth, unless he had “personally committed a drastic crime”, the source said.
“But if Anna [Lukashenko] is still happily flying around the EU, we should be taking a look at that,” the source added.