The European Union said earlier this fall that some of its member states had “associated” with Russia malicious actors known for sowing anti-NATO sentiment throughout Eastern Europe — hacking news sites and government officials’ social media accounts to post and spread fake stories and forged documents. Threat intelligence firm Mandiant announced this past week that the reality is more complicated: While the researchers can’t rule out Russian contributions, strong technical evidence links the group to Belarus. The connection also fits with a shift in Ghostwriter’s focus following the disputed 2020 presidential election in that nation: Targeted countries have included Lithuania and Latvia, which border Belarus, but exclude Estonia, which does not — and narratives seeded in Lithuania and Poland relate to specific regional disputes. Targeted individuals include Belarusian opposition members.
It has been clear from the start that Mr. Lukashenko’s continued rule following last summer’s stolen victory is a threat to the self-determination and well-being of his country’s citizens. Now it’s clear also that this threat extends beyond Belarus to its neighbors; Ghostwriter is prolific and effective. The Belarusian dictator is playing copycat to Russian President Vladimir Putin yet again, and the environment their style of governing promotes is worse than lawlessness. It involves the deliberate sheltering of lawbreakers by those who are supposed to uphold the law: Look, for instance, at the two accused ransomware extortionists at the top of the United States’ cybercriminal most wanted list, living large — and openly — in Russia, according to the BBC.
The United States shouldn’t let Belarus mimic Mr. Putin’s worst behaviors unchallenged. The E.U. is on course to impose new sanctions on the nation in response to the migrant crisis at the Lithuanian and Polish borders; the White House is expected to join in. Those sanctions should be prelude to further measures that weaken the hold Mr. Lukashenko and his henchmen have on a nation yearning for democracy. His departure, with free and fair elections to follow, would surely be better for the people of Belarus. As events beyond that country’s bounds show every day, it would be better for the rest of the world, too.