The U.S. State Department will recommend against the renewal of a general license authorizing transactions with nine state-owned Belarusian companies, spokesman Ned Price said on March 31.
Speaking at a briefing, Price said that the human rights situation in Belarus has deteriorated “to what is arguably the worst point in Belarus’s independent history.”
The U.S. Treasury Department first issued the licenses to the nine state-owned companies in 2015. They include fertilizer giant Grodno Azot and oil refiner Naftan.
The licenses have since been extended annually because of progress at the time on human rights and the release of political prisoners, he said.
The Treasury Department issues general licenses in order to authorize activities that would otherwise be prohibited with regard to Belarus. But with more than 300 political prisoners currently in detention, the State Department “is unable to recommend another extension at this time,” Price said.
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.
The State Department put forth its recommendation to the Treasury Department, which will decide whether the licenses are renewed.
“This is, in fact, something that we hope does not come to pass,” Price said.
The licenses will expire on April 26, but Price said the State Department's recommendation is “reversible” if Belarus releases “all those wrongfully imprisoned simply for peacefully disagreeing with the authorities, espousing different views, or daring to compete in an election.”
Price also called on Belarusian authorities to end violence against citizens and to begin a meaningful dialogue with the political opposition that leads to free and fair elections.
The United States wants to see Belarus succeed as an independent, prosperous, and democratic country, Price said.
"The events surrounding the fraudulent 2020 election, the violence, and repressive tactics in its aftermath cannot be ignored,” he said.
Belarus has been rocked by protests since a presidential election in August that authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed extended his rule for a sixth term, despite the opposition and West saying the vote was rigged.