WASHINGTON – The United States will on Monday (Aug 9) impose fresh sanctions on the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who is accused of a brutal crackdown on opponents.
President Joe Biden will sign an executive order targeting Mr Lukashenko over an ongoing “assault against the democratic aspirations and human rights of the Belarusian people, transnational repression… and corruption”.
In power since 1994, Mr Lukashenko has been cracking down on opponents since unprecedented protests erupted after last year’s elections, deemed unfair by many observers.
The sanctions to be imposed by the US Treasury on Monday will mark the anniversary of the elections, which the US official described as “fraudulent”.
At the now-completed Tokyo Olympics, Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya sought protection to avoid being forced onto a plane home, saying she feared for her life if she returned to Belarus after she criticised her coaches.
Ms Tsimanouskaya was among the many Belarusian sports figures who in August 2020 publicly criticised violence against protesters at demonstrations that gripped the ex-Soviet country after the presidential vote.
In May, Mr Lukashenko’s government intercepted a Ryanair plane and arrested an opposition activist and his girlfriend on board.
“Since then, the regime has only further expanded its repression, including by threatening the safety of an Olympic athlete outside its borders,” the US official said.
“With today’s actions, President Biden is abiding by his pledge to hold the Belarussian regime accountable for its abuses.”
The latest sanctions target key institutions and supporters of Mr Lukashenko, including the Belarusian National Olympic Committee, business leaders and companies such as a private Belarusian bank.
Also on the list is Belaruskali OAO, one of Belarus’s largest state-owned enterprises and one of the world’s largest producers of potash. It is alleged to be a source of illegal wealth for the regime.
The US accused the National Olympic Committee of facilitating money laundering, sanctions evasion and circumventing visa bans.
Western nations have already imposed a slew of sanctions on Mr Lukashenko and his regime, but they appear to have had limited effect as he maintains backing from key ally and creditor Russia.
Ms Tsimanouskaya, 24, arrived in Poland on Wednesday after being granted a humanitarian visa, saying she was “happy to be in safety”.
According to local rights group Viasna, there are currently 603 political prisoners in Belarus.
The US will call for an international investigation into the Ryanair flight diversion, the release of all political prisoners, and free and fair elections.