Lukashenko
© REUTERS
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
Amid a growing row with the EU over the grounding of a passenger jet carrying an opposition activist last month, Belarus' bombastic leader has launched a new attack on Germany, comparing its sanctions policy to its role in WWII.

Speaking at an event being held to mark the 80th anniversary of the Third Reich's invasion of the Soviet Union, veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko raged about the West's response to the incident. Between a quarter and a third of Belarusians are estimated to have died during WWII, the worst proportionate death toll of any country.

Lukashenko, who has faced long-running protests after declaring victory in last year's disputed presidential election, claimed that sanctions imposed since were part of the West's "hybrid war" against the nation.

"We did not expect Germany's participation in this collective conspiracy," he said. "From those whose ancestors destroyed not only every third Belarusian, but also millions of unborn children in the Great Patriotic War." He argued that Germany's foreign policy should be dictated by remorse for WWII, rather than seeking confrontation.

Focusing his ire on Berlin's foreign minister, Heiko Maas, who this week called for additional economic sanctions to be imposed, Lukashenko asked "Who are you? A repentant German ... or the heir of the Nazis?"

Belarus was rocked by demonstrations in the wake of last August's election, which the opposition and many international observers say was rigged. Tens of thousands took to the streets to demand a fresh vote, but they were met with a police crackdown, tear gas, and mass arrests.

Last month, a Ryanair plane flying between Athens and Vilnius was instructed to land in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. Once on the ground, authorities arrested the editor of an opposition Telegram channel banned in the country, Roman Protasevich, and his Russian-citizen girlfriend, activist Sophia Sapega.

Western governments have blasted the move as "state-sponsored piracy," and the EU has since begun barring Belarus' national carrier, Belavia, from its airspace. A number of Western carriers now also use routes that circumnavigate the Eastern European country, while Brussels is reportedly mulling further sanctions.