The United States of America has tightened the screws on the one-time Soviet satellite, Belarus, for human rights violations by the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. The cache of sanctions imposed on Sunday are targeted at state-owned enterprises that support the government of President Lukashenko.
It thus comes about that the Biden administration has renewed American sanctions on nine state-owned companies in Belarus for human rights violations by the regime. The move by the US Treasury Department has primarily forestalled potential future sales of US crude oil to the former Soviet-state, which US officials had hoped was looking for alternative sources in Russia for its refineries.
The US State Department cited government suppression of political protests following the August 2020 reelection of Lukashenko, which the US has said was fraudulent. The reprisal is as political as it is economic. The action came as a “consequence of the country’s flagrant disregard for human rights and its failure to comply with obligations under international law”, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
More than 340 political prisoners are being detained in Belarus and this is part of a political crackdown against dissent following Lukashenko’s re-election, according to the State Department. “The United States calls on the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those unjustly detained or imprisoned,” Blinken said.
He named several political prisoners still being held whom US officials are concerned about. Belarusian political figure Siarhei Tsikhanouski, who had intended to run against Lukashenko in 2020, was arrested before the August election and remains imprisoned. Protest leader Maria Kolesnikova was detained in September after a mass march against the Lukashenko government.
“The nine state-owned enterprises affected by this action finance and support the Lukashenko regime, facilitating its violent repression of the Belarusian people and repeated rejection of the rule of law,” Blinken’s statement said. The US reprisal comes in the immediate aftermath of the recent diversion of a commercial aircraft to detain a journalist the regime deemed inconvenient.
Sanctions had been lifted in 2015 when the US and Western nations attempted to develop better relations with Belarus. The US had exported goods worth $112m to Belarus in 2020 ~ mostly medicines and cars ~ and imported goods worth $332m, mostly fertiliser, iron and steel, according to US government data. In February, the United States imposed travel restrictions on 43 Belarusian nationals identified as taking part in Lukashenko’s political crackdown.
The travel sanctions were triggered by the sentencing of two journalists who had live-streamed an enormous protest in Minsk against Lukashenko’s rule in November.