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Belarus Says Prolonged U.S. Sanctions 'Pointless'

MINSK -- Belarus has called continued U.S. sanctions against it "pointless" and "confrontational," RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinnykh was responding to the Obama administration's decision on June 8 to prolong for one year financial sanctions against Belarus.

Savinnykh said the extension signaled the United States’ lack of political readiness to normalize relations with Belarus. "The abolition of all types of sanctions is a fundamental precondition for the renewal of dialogue," Savinnykh said.

But David Kramer, a former U.S. State Department official, said any improvement in ties was in Minsk's hands. Kramer served during the George W. Bush administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, responsible for a region that included Belarus.

"Belarus and the Lukashenka regime know what they need to do if they want to improve relations with the United States and with the West," Kramer told RFE/RL. "And that is to stop cracking down on people's rights [and] liberalize their society. But I fear the situation is only going to get worse as Belarus approaches a presidential election [in 2011]."

For the past two years, the two countries have maintained only minimal staff at their respective embassies.

The U.S. sanctions, originally imposed by then-President George W. Bush in 2006, freeze the property and financial assets in the United States of a number of Belarusian government officials, including President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. U.S. companies and individuals are barred from engaging in transactions with the targeted persons.

The White House press office said the sanctions target "certain persons undermining democratic processes or institutions in Belarus." They include Natallya Pyatkevich, the deputy head of the presidential administration; Alyaksandr Zimowski, chairman of Belarusian state television and radio; Lidziya Jarmoshyna, chairwoman of the Central Electoral Commission; and Viktar Lukashenka, a presidential security adviser and President Lukashenka's son.

Other former intelligence, Interior Ministry, and other officials are also targeted by the sanctions.

Belarusian opposition activist and poet Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu on June 8 urged the West to adopt a tougher approach to his country with regard to financial sanctions. Nyaklyaeu is part of a Belarusian opposition delegation that is meeting with Canadian and U.S. government officials this week.

"Today, the survival of Lukashenka's regime depends [on] money. He has everything else -- the power structures, [early] voting, a docile populace which totally supports him, or so he thinks," Nyaklyaeu told RFE/RL. "His only problem is money. So in these conditions, I think the policies of both Europe and the United States [toward Belarus] should be tougher."