President Joe Biden issued a sweeping executive order Monday to target those in the Belarusian regime involved in the repression of human rights and democracy in the former Soviet state.
The executive order was released on the one-year anniversary of Belarus’ election, which was declared fraudulent by the United States and much of the international community and sparked widespread protests throughout the country.
“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,” Biden said in a statement Monday. “Rather than respect the clear will of the Belarusian people, the Lukashenka regime perpetrated election fraud, followed by a brutal campaign of repression to stifle dissent.”
“The United States will continue to stand up for human rights and free expression, while holding the Lukashenka accountable, in concert with our allies and partners. Toward that end, today, we are issuing a new Executive Order that enhances our ability to impose costs on the regime and announcing new sanctions against Belarusian individuals and entities for their role in attacks on democracy and human rights, transnational repression, and corruption,” he said.
“As I told the leader of the Belarusian opposition, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, we stand with the people of Belarus as they bravely pursue their democratic aspirations,” the President said.
Tsikhanouskaya, who met with Biden last month, said Monday she appreciated the US’ decision “to expand sanctions against Lukashenka’s regime.”
“Though sanctions are not a silver bullet, they are designed to push the regime towards dialogue and stop its’ impunity. Thankful to the US for the principled position and support of Belarusians,” she wrote on Twitter.
‘An illegitimate effort to hold on to power at any price’
Belarus’ strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko, nicknamed “Europe’s last dictator,” has been shunned by much of the international community and has been under US sanctions since 2006. His regime has sharply cracked down on protesters and journalists – the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found last November that “regarding the allegations related to major human rights abuses, they were found to be massive and systematic and proven beyond doubt.”
“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 Lukashenka regime are an illegitimate effort to hold on to power at any price,” Biden said Monday.
“It is the responsibility of all those who care about human rights, free and fair elections, and freedom of expression to stand against this oppression,” he said.
Monday’s executive order expands on one issued in 2006 to include “illicit and oppressive activities stemming from the August 9, 2020, fraudulent Belarusian presidential election and its aftermath, such as the elimination of political opposition and civil society organizations and the regime’s disruption and endangering of international civil air travel.”
It allows for “the imposition of blocking sanctions on persons operating in certain identified sectors of the Belarus economy, including the defense and related materiel sector, security sector, energy sector, potassium chloride (potash) sector, tobacco products sector, construction sector, transportation sector, or any other sector of the Belarus economy as may be determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State,” according to a White House fact sheet.
The US Treasury Department on Monday sanctioned 27 individuals and 17 entities – its largest tranche of sanctions on Belarus to date, according to the White House fact sheet.
“The persons designated today are involved in the continuing violent crackdown on peaceful protests; are connected to the May 23, 2021, Ryanair incident; or, profit from or sustain the Belarusian regime at the expense of the Belarusian people,” the Treasury Department said in a press release.
Monday’s sanctions hit two major Belarus state-owned enterprises: potash producer Belaruskali OAO and Grodno Tobacco Factory Neman.
The sanctions also targeted the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus – “a government organization at the forefront of post-election repression” – and members of its leadership team; “individuals and entities that function as the Lukashenka regime’s ‘wallets;’” as well as the Belarus National Olympic Committee, which “allegedly serves as a tool for Lukashenka and his inner circle to launder funds and evade sanctions,” according to the Treasury Department.
During her meetings in Washington in July, Tsikhanouskaya said she gave the Biden administration a specific list of targets she would like to see sanctioned, including Belaruskali.
‘Steadfast international resolve’
In a briefing with reporters during last month’s visit to Washington, Tsikhanouskaya called on the administration to enact stronger sanctions, saying at the time that she believed the initial tranches were more symbolic and “moral sanctions.”
The Biden administration announced sanctions in June as part of a coordinated response with the United Kingdom, Canada, and European Union to the Lukashenko government’s forced landing of the Ryanair flight, as well as the “continuing repression” in the former Soviet state.
The UK and Canada also announced additional sanctions on Monday, which were welcomed by the opposition as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“Democratic countries are stronger when they stand together. Alongside these U.S. actions, we welcome the steps taken today by the United Kingdom and Canada against the regime and those announced by the European Union on June 24. The United States further commends the ongoing close coordination with Lithuania and Poland as a demonstration of the steadfast international resolve in supporting the Belarusian people’s democratic aspirations,” 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,” he said.
This story has been updated with additional details.