August 8, 2012
Belarus pulls embassy staff from Sweden over toy bear drop
Though a foreign ministry statement said Belarus was not severing relations with the Nordic country, the move marked an escalation in the dispute and looked certain to worsen the already strained ties with the European Union.
Belarus expelled Sweden's ambassador on August 3 following the July 4 escapade in which about 800 toy bears bearing pro-democracy messages were parachuted into the hardline former Soviet republic from a light aircraft chartered by a Swedish public relations firm.
The incident was a humiliation for President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and is on poor terms with the West because of his harsh policies towards the political opposition.
The Belarussian ambassador to Stockholm was also withdrawn.
The foreign ministry said Minsk was pulling out its remaining embassy staff because Sweden had aggravated the situation by expelling two more diplomats and had refused to allow a new Belarussian ambassador to take up his post.
Lukashenko subsequently sacked his air defense chief and head of the border guards and reprimanded the state security agency for lapses in vigilance. He told the incoming border guards chief not to hesitate to use weapons to stop any future air intrusions from abroad.