The United States, in coordination with Britain and Canada, rolled out new sanctions on Belarus on Monday, the one-year anniversary of the start of protests in the eastern European country against elections that were widely seen as fraudulent.
Since that time, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has taken harsh action against peaceful demonstrators and political opponents.
“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,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement. “From detaining thousands of peaceful protesters, to imprisoning more than 500 activists, civil society leaders and journalists as political prisoners, to forcing the diversion of an international flight in an affront to global norms, the actions of the Lukashenko regime are an illegitimate effort to hold on to power at any price.”
Actions by Washington, as well as Ottawa and London, are targeting the construction, energy, potash and tobacco industries of Minsk, which the U.S. Treasury Department described as the “wallets” of the Lukashenko government.
“Together with our Canadian and British partners, today we are demonstrating continued international condemnation of the Lukashenko regime’s undemocratic actions,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
Among the entities being blacklisted is the state-owned potash producer Belaruskali OAO, a primary source of the country’s foreign currency earnings.
The new sanctions, covering 44 people from Belarus and Serbia, will bite, said Sofya Orlosky, deputy director of the Europe and Eurasia program at Freedom House.
"These sanctions raise the financial and reputational costs of being Lukashenko's friends or minions," Orlosky told VOA.
The Belaruskali company "notoriously escaped U.S. sanctions a decade ago by spinning off from petrochemical conglomerate, Belneftekhim. The new executive order now makes it much harder to evade sanctions in a similar manner and closes a number of other loopholes," Orlosky added.
In response to the British sanctions, which were announced earlier in the day, Lukashenko told reporters on Monday that Britain could “choke on” them.
"You are America's lapdogs," Lukashenko stated at an hourlong news conference during which he denied being a dictator and said his actions against demonstrators and political opponents defended Belarus against a coup.
Britain and the United States previously targeted Belarusian individuals by freezing assets and imposing travel bans, but those actions have failed to moderate the behavior of Lukashenko, who has run the former Soviet republic since 1994.
“The United States once again calls on the Belarusian authorities to end the crackdown on members of civil society, the media, athletes, students, legal professionals and other citizens, immediately release all political prisoners, engage in a genuine dialogue with the democratic opposition and civil society, as called for in the OSCE Expert Mission report, and hold free and fair elections under international observation,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “We will continue working with the international community to hold to account those responsible for human rights violations and abuses in Belarus.”
Those steps should include Washington supporting "the establishment of an international investigation into the crimes against the Belarusian people by the Lukashenka government," according to Orlosky.