The United States, Britain, and Canada have announced new trade and financial sanctions on Belarus on the first anniversary of a presidential election that extended Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decades-long rule and sparked an unprecedented wave of protests amid allegations the vote was rigged.
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, including Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who left for Lithuania a day after the vote that supporters say she actually won.
Since then, Lukashenka, his inner circle, and Belarusian firms have been hit with several rounds of sanctions by the United States, European Union, Canada, and Britain, among others, leaving the Belarusian strongman internationally isolated, dependent more than ever on Russian support.
Among those entities targeted in the fresh U.S. sanctions was Belaruskali, the Belarusian potash producer, a major source of income for the Lukashenka regime, the White House announced.
Also targeted was Belarus's International Olympic Committee, "for its failure to protect Belarusian athletes from political discrimination and repression."
This comes after Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya refused to board a flight home during the Olympics after she was taken to the airport against her wishes. She has since sought refugee status in Poland.
"It is the responsibility of all those who care about human rights, free and fair elections, and freedom of expression to stand against this oppression," Biden said in a statement. "The United States will continue to stand up for human rights and free expression, while holding the Lukashenka regime accountable, in concert with our allies and partners."
On Twitter, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said, "The United States is demonstrating its commitment to holding the Lukashenka regime to account on the anniversary of Belarus's fraudulent election."
Prominent businesspeople who support the Lukashenka regime as well as 15 companies with which they are affiliated -- including Absolutbank, a private Belarusian bank -- were also blacklisted by the Biden administration, as well as entities that operate in the tobacco-products, construction, energy, and transportation sectors of the Belarusian economy.
Earlier, London announced its own sanctions.
The British measures, announced by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office on August 9, include a ban on Belarus's potash and petroleum-product exports and a prohibition on the purchase of transferable securities and money-market instruments issued by the Belarusian state and its state-owned banks.
The package also includes measures to prevent Belarusian air carriers from overflying or landing in Britain and a prohibition on the provision of technical assistance to Lukashenka's "fleet of luxury aircraft."
"These sanctions demonstrate that the U.K. will not accept Lukashenka's actions since the fraudulent election," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. "The Lukashenka regime continues to crush democracy and violate human rights in Belarus."
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
Britain also added Russian businessman Mikhail Gutseriyev to its sanctions list, saying he was "one of the main private investors in Belarus and a long-standing associate" of Lukashenka.
Canada also announced its own measures. Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said Ottawa would target transferable securities and money-market instruments, debt financing, insurance and reinsurance, petroleum products, and potassium chloride products.
"Since then, the grave injustices carried out by the Belarusian government against its own people have not stopped...these measures will apply further pressure on Belarus's leadership," Garneau said.
Canada has to date placed sanctions on 72 Belarusian officials and five entities.The European Union, the United States, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as Belarus's legitimate leader and have slapped multiple rounds of sanctions to pressure his regime to ease its crackdown, talk with the opposition, and ensure a new election.
Speaking during a meeting with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis in Vilnius, Tsikhanouskaya said that only a common, coordinated position of all countries on sanctions and further pressure on Lukashenka will help Belarus overcome the crisis.
Separately, Tsikhanouskaya told the media that the Belarusian opposition was "advocating for organizing an international tribunal on the regime's crimes" and was "working on holding a high-level international conference to resolve the crisis in Belarus."
At a press conference, Lukashenka struck a note of defiance, defending last year's election and accusing the opposition of preparing a "coup."
He also denied that his country had any involvement in the recent death of an activist in Ukraine or in trying to forcibly bring home an athlete from the Tokyo Olympics.
Belarusians living abroad and supporters held rallies against Lukashenka on August 8 in European capitals, including Kyiv, London, Warsaw, and Vilnius. More protests were planned for August 9.
"One year ago today, the right to freely elect their leader was taken away from the people of #Belarus. The EU stands firmly with you and will continue to do so," European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs EU summits, said in a tweet.
The EU "stands firmly with you and will continue to do so. The legitimate call for a democratic future and respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights must finally be heeded."
The previous day, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the bloc "stands ready to consider further measures in light of the regime’s blatant disregard of international commitments."
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas vowed to support Belarus's democracy movement, saying the whole country was being held "hostage" by Lukashenka.
"Alongside political support, we have launched practical assistance with our Belarus civil society action plan to support people who are being politically persecuted," Maas said.
In a statement on August 9, Amnesty International denounced Lukashenka's "campaign of brutal reprisals against dissent," saying a "plethora" of human rights violations and crimes under international law had been committed against the Belarusian people.
The London-based watchdog said dozens of human rights NGOs and other civil society organizations have been arbitrarily closed and many of their staff arrested as suspects in "fabricated" criminal cases or forced into exile.
"At least three peaceful protesters have died as a result of police use of force, while tens of thousands were subjected to arbitrary arrests and detention. Hundreds more have complained of torture," Amnesty said.
Lukashenka has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since 1994. He has earned the nickname "Europe's last dictator" in the West for his relentless repression of dissent.
On August 9, Lukashenka dismissed "those nasty things that you throw into my face, saying that I'm a dictator."
He said his government had nothing to do with the death of opposition activist Vital Shyshou, who was found hanged in a park in Kyiv after he was reported missing last week.
Ukrainian police have launched a murder investigation into the death of the 26-year-old, who led a Kyiv-based organization helping persecuted Belarusians.
Lukashenka also claimed that Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian sprinter who defected at the Olympics, had been "manipulated" by outside forces.
Tsimanouskaya fled to Warsaw on August 4 under Polish diplomatic protection following a dispute with her coaching team that she said had led to her being ordered home.
The International Olympic Committee has revoked the accreditation of two Belarusian coaches over Tsimanouskaya's alleged treatment, which Japan's Foreign Ministry called "unjust" and "not acceptable."