February 27, 2024

This Sunday, March 26, 2017, the Belarusian police arrested the journalist Raman Pratasevich (center) in Minsk, Belarus.

Sergei Grits | AP

WASHINGTON – The Biden government imposed a series of sanctions on Belarus on Monday amid western anger over the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight to arrest an opposition journalist.

Last month, a passenger plane flying from Greece to Lithuania was suddenly diverted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Ryanair flight was escorted to Minsk by a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet. On landing, the authorities arrested the opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.

The extraordinary diversion of an airliner has been called a “hijack” by some leaders of the European Union. The block of 27 nations immediately imposed sanctions on Belarus, including a ban on the use of airspace and airports within the European Union for its airlines.

The State Department has now followed suit and has sanctioned 46 Belarusian officials for their involvement in the arrest of Protasevich. In addition, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against 16 individuals and five companies.

“These steps are also a response to the ongoing repression in Belarus, including attacks on human rights, democratic processes and fundamental freedoms,” wrote Foreign Minister Antony Blinken in a statement on Monday, adding that the sanctions are with Canada, the European Union and the UK.

“These coordinated designations show the unwavering transatlantic commitment to support the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people,” wrote Blinken.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a staunch defender of Russian President Vladimir Putin, faced widespread calls for resignation after a controversial election that put him back into a sixth term. The almost daily protests rocked Belarus for almost three months.

“The persons named today have testified to the population of Belarus through their activities around the fraudulent presidential election on the 9th.

Members of the Belarusian diaspora and Ukrainian activists incinerate white and red smoke grenades during a rally in support of the Belarusian people who died on Aug.

Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

The people sanctioned by the United States on Monday include some of Lukashenko’s closest associates: his spokeswoman Natallia Eismant and former chief of staff Natallia Kachanava, who is currently his ambassador for the president in Minsk, Mikalai Karpiankou, deputy interior minister of Belarus and the current commander of the Belarusian Police and Prosecutor General of Belarus Andrei Shved.

The US also imposed sanctions on the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus, also known as the Belarusian KGB.

“The Belarusian KGB has arrested, intimidated and otherwise pressured the opposition to take in Pratasevich,” the Treasury Department wrote in a statement, adding that the organization increased its crimes following the fraudulent 2020 election of Lukashenko.

The Ministry of Finance has also sanctioned the internal troops of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Belarus, a Belarusian police force, for violently suppressing peaceful protesters since the 2020 presidential election.

The sanctions against Belarus, a Russian ally, follow President Joe Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with his Russian counterpart in Switzerland, at which the two agreed to resume nuclear talks and return their ambassadors to their overseas posts.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Sunday the US is preparing additional sanctions against Russia for the imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

“We are preparing another package of sanctions to be applied in this case,” said Sullivan on CNN’s Sunday program “State of the Union”. “It will come as soon as we develop the packages to make sure we are achieving the right goals,” he added.

Concerns over Navalny’s detention and deteriorating health are the latest blow to already strained relations between Moscow and the West.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accused of disregarding the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement, is attending a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, on February 2, 2021.

Moscow City Court | Reuters