The United States Treasury Department expanded its sanctions on Belarus, taking aim at the country’s premier airline, Belavia, as well as three more companies and a government office. These additional penalties announced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Wednesday marked the third anniversary of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election.
OFAC said that the broadened sanctions were a response to Minsk’s “callous crackdown” on the country’s pro-democracy movement and the government’s “complicity” with Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Russian forces launched attacks from positions in Belarus during the invasion of Ukraine last year.
Although Belarus maintains a plethora of political prisoners, there is considerable foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs including by Washington and its partners. For instance, the exiled former Belarusian presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is supported by the White House, is now wanted in Belarus for attempting to organize a coup.
Moreover, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has dozens of active programs in Belarus. As investigative journalist Alan Macleod has reported, “Although not a single individual or organization is named, it is clear from the scant public information it reveals that Washington is focusing on three areas: training activists and civil-society organizations in non-violent regime-change tactics; funding anti-government media; and bankrolling election-monitoring groups.”
Founded during the Ronald Reagan administration, the NED is a US taxpayer funded non-profit which meddles in other countries’ elections and politics seeking regime change. In 1991, co-founder Allen Weinstein explained to the Washington Post that “A lot of what [the NED does] today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, OFAC “placed economic sanctions on the investigative arm of the country’s Department of Financial Monitoring for its role in suppressing independent media and civil liberties in the country.”
Belavia, the state-owned flagship airline of Belarus, had already been sanctioned by the US and the European Union. In May 2021, the Belarusian government forced down a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania to detain opposition figure Roman Protasevich. Minsk charged Protasevich with organizing mass riots in Belarus, among other crimes, and has since been handed an eight year prison sentence.
Since the incident with Protasevich’s flight, Belavia has been banned from flying planes to the US and prohibited from accessing EU members’ airspace or airports. In this latest package of sanctions, Belavia was targeted under an executive order which permits Washington to both prevent US citizens from doing business with the airline and seize any of the company’s assets held on American soil.
A Belarusian state owned aviation plant was sanctioned as well, along with BSW, a state-owned steel works. Bel-Kap-Steel which is described by the Treasury as a “small Miami, Florida-based joint venture with BSW” was also sanctioned.