President Joe Biden on Monday signed an executive order imposing new sanctions against Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has been president of the former Soviet republic since 1994.
The Biden administration made the announcement on the date marking the first anniversary of Lukashenko’s reelection, which was widely seen as fraudulent and sparked nationwide protests. Lukashenko responded to the unrest with a harsh crackdown, during which many of his critics and political opponents were arrested or fled the country.
“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 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.”
The White House said its new sanctions will target supporters of Lukashenko’s regime and their sources of wealth in the Belarusian economy, including key exports of oil and potassium products. Belarus is the world’s second-largest exporter of potash fertilizers after Canada, according to the World Bank, with sales reaching a value of $2.7 billion in 2019.
In addition, the Treasury Department is set to launch its largest round of sanctions to date against 44 Belarusian individuals and entities, including “state-owned enterprises, government officials, and others, who support the regime, facilitate its violent repression of the Belarusian people, and violate the law.”
Among the sanctioned entities is Belaruskali OAO, Belarus’s largest state-owned enterprises and one of the world’s largest producers of potash. The sanction also covers the Belarusian National Olympic Committee, which is accused of money laundering, sanctions evasion, and the circumvention of visa bans.
The announcement came after Tokyo Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya sought political refuge to avoid being forced to fly home, saying that she feared for her life if she returned to Belarus after she criticized her coaches. The 24-year-old athlete received a humanitarian visa from Poland, which has long been critical to the Lukashenko regime and has sheltered many of the regime’s dissidents.
Lukashenko responded to the incident on Monday, saying that Tsimanouskaya had been “manipulated” by foreign forces.
“She wouldn’t do it herself, she was manipulated. It was from Japan, from Tokyo, that she contacted her buddies in Poland and they told her—literally—when you come to the airport, run to a Japanese police officer and shout that those who dropped her off at the airport are KGB agents,” Lukashenko said at a press conference, reported France’s public radio broadcaster RFI.