By Eurasia Business News – June 22, 2021

The United States decided to impose sanctions on 16 individuals and five entities from Belarus.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced its decision on June 21, taken “in response to the Lukashenka regime’s escalating violence and repression, including its reckless forced diversion of a commercial Ryanair flight and arrest of journalist Roman Pratasevich and his companion, Sofia Sapega.

The OFAC explained that these actions, taken together with those by international partners such as the EU, the United Kingdom and Canada and across the U.S. government, seek to hold the Belarusian officials to account for the abuses and recent affronts to international norms, including the forced diversion of a commercial Ryanair flight and the subsequent arrest of the blogger Roman Pratasevich on May 23.

The United States and its partners will not tolerate continued attacks on democracy and the ceaseless repression of independent voices in Belarus” said the Office of Foreign Assets Control Director Andrea M. Gacki. 

The US sanctions target the press secretary of the Belarusian President Natallia Eismant, the General Prosecutor of Belarus Andrei Shved, Natallia Kachanava, the Chairperson of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly and former Presidential Chief of Staff for Alexander Lukashenka and Mikhail Hryb (Gryb), head of the Main Internal Affairs Directorate of the Minsk Executive Committee.

Among the Belarusian organizations, targeted by US sanctions, are the KGB of Belarus and the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus, as well as the Detention Center on Akrestin Street in Minsk and the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus.

The Russian oligarch Mikhail Gutseriev, who was included in the sanctions list of the European Union against Belarus, also published on Monday, is not on the US OFAC list. Mr Gutseriev is the founder and a shareholder of the Russneft oil company that provides Belarus with crude and has been supporting the development of a digital economy in the former Soviet republic. In addition, the mining company Slavkaliy, owned by Gutseriev, started in 2017 to build a potash complex in Belarus worth USD 2.1 billion.

Sanctions consequences

As a result of the OFAC sanctions, all property and interests in property of the targeted persons and entities that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC.  In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.  Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC, or otherwise exempt, all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons are generally prohibited. 

The prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person, or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.

Persons designated by OFAC sanctions can file a request of removal that will be thoroughly reviewed. OFAC accepts petitions directly from listed persons or from their representatives.

What is at stake ?

For many years Belarus has been at the centre of attention of the United States, willing to see this former soviet republic to do a geopolitical pivot to the West. However, Russia has been a supporter of the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and wants to keep Belarus as an ally.

After Georgia and Ukraine, we can see the Belarus crisis as a new chapter of the geopolitical confrontation between Washington and Moscow in Europe. Russia will probably propose to Belarus a greater economic integration and to carry out a constitutional reform to give more power to the Parliament and then political parties. Moscow will not let Minsk to leave its sphere of influence.

On the other side, Western countries will continue in the coming months promoting the peaceful and democratic transition, demanding the end of repression against the opposition. The current crisis may take months or even years to be progressively solved.

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