The European Union said on Friday it would freeze the assets of Zargana Simanta, the head of the United Nations agency for vulnerable children who has been convicted of an abuse of power and will be sent to prison until he returns to Belgrade. But the decision put off any punitive measures against President Aleksandar Lukashenko, who rebuffed warnings that the revelations surrounding him could seriously undermine his country’s credibility with the international community.
The warning about Mr. Lukashenko coincided with similar condemnations of his government’s wayward behavior from the U.S. and United Nations and set off a diplomatic showdown with Russia, a close ally of the Belarusian president, who insisted that European countries lacked the legal authority to punish his government.
Three days earlier, the EU, the United States and the United Nations issued a joint statement condemning Mr. Lukashenko’s government for imprisoning a journalist and his brother. They also said Mr. Lukashenko and his country would be put on a “grey list” of nations failing to respect fundamental freedoms.
Mr. Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for 17 years, also faces sanctions from Congress and from the European Union, which has made clear that it wants nothing to do with the flailing country, whose economy has cratered and been plagued by corruption.
Tass, the Russian state news agency, suggested on Friday that the United States had made no effort to verify the allegations of corruption in the speech by Mr. Lukashenko’s foreign minister on Tuesday, with the minister saying at a press conference that no one had told him before he delivered the remarks.
The United States has rejected Russian pressure to amend the motion. In Washington, State Department officials said that if the European Union continued to treat Mr. Lukashenko as a pariah, it could have repercussions. The White House also stressed the importance of international commitments against corruption, saying that some of those Mr. Lukashenko had been accused of abusing his authority were actually American companies or workers.
“We expect Russia to uphold its own commitments on fighting corruption and if the Russians don’t, then it will be difficult for the European Union to have any credibility on this issue,” said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the State Department’s latest efforts to lay down a marker of United States goals. “It will become a useful counter to the arguments that the Russians are trying to make to shield Mr. Lukashenko.”