The U.S. Embassy in Minsk said on October 29 that Belarusian authorities were “forcing the closure” of its humanitarian and outreach programs that have benefited thousands of people in the authoritarian country.
Strongman leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s government has cracked down on civil society groups and the pro-democracy opposition since protests erupted against his disputed reelection last August, leading to several rounds of Western sanctions.
The U.S. Embassy said in a statement that authorities informed it of new measures “designed to impede the functioning” of the mission by forcing the closure of its Public Diplomacy and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) offices, as well as the American Center in Minsk.
The move also forces the Embassy to terminate the employment of more than 20 Belarusian staff members.
“These actions reflect the Belarusian authorities’ deep insecurities about the role of diplomacy, people-to-people ties, and independent civil society,” the Embassy said.
The U.S. government’s development assistance and civil society programs have benefited the Belarusian people since the 1990s, the Embassy said.
U.S. funds have supported entrepreneurship, business development, civil society, independent media, families living in radiation-affected areas, and more than 36,000 orphans and vulnerable people, the embassy said.
“Despite new limitations by the regime, we will not be deterred from our commitment to bolster fundamental freedoms in Belarus. Our efforts to support health, education, and economic improvement in Belarus will continue,” Washington's special envoy for Belarus, Julie Fisher, said on Twitter.
Fisher, the first U.S. ambassador to Belarus since 2008, has been unable to take up her post in Minsk because the Belarusian government has denied her a visa.
Exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said she was thankful for years of support developing the U.S.-Belarus relationship.
“They will return to (a) new Belarus. I ask them to continue work for Belarusians – we see and value this consistent support,” she wrote on Twitter.
The opposition and the West say Tsikhanouskaya was the true winner of a presidential election last year.