US slaps new sanctions on Belarus regime

US slaps new sanctions on Belarus regime

The US president signed an executive order expanding sanctions which have been in place on the Russian neighbor since 2006

US President Joe Biden. Credit: Reuters Photo

The United States imposed fresh sanctions on Monday on the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, accusing him of carrying out a "brutal" crackdown on opponents.

"One year ago today, the people of Belarus sought to make their voices heard and shape their own future through that most basic expression of democracy -- an election," US President Joe Biden said in a statement.

"Rather than respect the clear will of the Belarusian people, the Lukashenko regime perpetrated election fraud, followed by a brutal campaign of repression to stifle dissent," Biden said.

"The actions of the Lukashenko regime are an illegitimate effort to hold on to power at any price," he said.

The US president signed an executive order expanding sanctions which have been in place on the Russian neighbor since 2006, targeting a slew of Belarusian officials, business executives and companies.

The latest sanctions take aim at various sectors of the Belarusian economy, including banking, defense, energy, construction and transportation.

Also targeted was the Belarusian National Olympic Committee, accused of facilitating money laundering, sanctions evasion and failing "to protect Belarusian athletes from political discrimination and repression."

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya sought protection at the Tokyo Olympics to avoid being forced onto a plane home, saying she feared for her life after criticizing her coaches.

Tsimanouskaya was granted a humanitarian visa by Poland and she told AFP in an interview in Warsaw on Monday that she "would like my country to be free."

Tsimanouskaya was among the Belarusian sports figures who publicly criticized violence against protesters at demonstrations that gripped the ex-Soviet country after the August 9, 2020 presidential vote.

Also targeted by US sanctions was state-owned Belaruskali OAO, which the executive order said is one of the world's largest producers of potash and a "source of illicit wealth for the regime."

Prominent business executives who support the Lukashenko regime were also sanctioned along with 15 of their companies including the private bank Absolut Bank.

In power since 1994, Lukashenko has been cracking down on opponents since unprecedented protests erupted after last year's election.

Among the actions for which the Lukashenko regime was being sanctioned, Biden said, was the diversion in May of a Ryanair plane and the subsequent arrest of an opposition activist and his girlfriend who were on board.

In London, the UK government said that it will prevent Belarusian air carriers from flying over or landing in Britain and broadened a litany of financial sanctions because of "the continued undermining of democracy and human rights violations."

In his statement, Biden recalled that he had met recently in Washington with Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and told her "we stand with the people of Belarus as they bravely pursue their democratic aspirations."

Western nations have already imposed a raft of sanctions on Lukashenko and his regime, but they appear to have had limited effect as he maintains backing from key ally and creditor Russia.

The latest US sanctions come rising tensions between the United States and Russia's Vladimir Putin, the chief ally of the Belarusian president.

The 66-year-old Lukashenko on Monday denounced the United States and Britain for imposing new sanctions on his regime and insisted he won a "totally transparent" vote."

"You will choke on these sanctions in the United Kingdom," Lukashenko said at his annual press conference, a marathon event that lasts for hours.

"You are risking starting World War III," he added. "Is that what you are trying to push us and the Russians to?"

He denied widespread reports of torture in Belarusian prisons. Local rights groups say Belarus has over 600 political prisoners and have recorded testimonies of torture.

Lukashenko also said his country's KGB had nothing to do with the death of 26-year-old Belarusian activist Vitaly Shishov, who was found hanged in a Kiev park last week.