The regime of authoritarian Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka has responded to the latest round of U.S. sanctions by requesting Washington to reduce its embassy staff in Minsk to five people by September 1.
Belarusian Foreign Ministry's spokesman Anatol Hlaz said in an interview that was placed on the ministry's website on August 11 that Minsk also had revoked its consent to the appointment of Julie Fisher as the U.S. ambassador to Belarus.
"Taking into account that Belarus has lost trust in the current U.S. administration, we suspend cooperation in all new projects, grants, and programs coordinated by the U.S. government until such trust is back," Hlaz said, adding that Minsk reserved the right to introduce additional measures in the future.
Fisher, the first U.S. ambassador to Belarus since 2008, was confirmed by the Senate in December 2020 but has been unable to take up her post in Minsk because the Belarusian government has denied her a visa.
Hlaz's interview appeared after the United States, Britain, and Canada announced new trade and financial sanctions on Belarus on August 9, the first anniversary of the presidential election that extended Lukashenka's decades-long rule and sparked an unprecedented wave of protests amid allegations the vote was rigged.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
In a statement issued later on August 11, the U.S. Embassy in Belarus said blame for the deterioration in bilateral ties lay squarely with the Lukashenka regime, "and its inability to allow independent voices to emerge in Belarus as well as its unwillingness to meet its international commitments."
"U.S. diplomats will continue to engage with Belarusians, including leaders of the pro-democracy movement, media professionals, students, teachers, athletes, and other members of civil society, wherever they are. The United States will continue to partner with elements of civil society and independent media in support of the fundamental freedoms of the people of Belarus," the statement further said.
Lukashenka, in power since 1994, reacted to the protests by unleashing a brutal crackdown. More than 32,000 people have been detained, thousands beaten by police on the streets and in detention, with torture alleged in many cases. Opposition leaders have been locked up or forced to flee.
In response, the United States, European Union, Canada, Britain, and other countries have hit Lukashenka, his inner circle, and Belarusian firms with several rounds of sanctions, leaving Belarus's strongman internationally isolated, dependent more than ever on Russian support.