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U.S. Extends Sanctions Relief For Belarus By Six Months

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

The United States has extended sanctions relief for Belarus by another six months in the continuation of a policy started under the Obama administration to encourage the country to turn away from traditional ally Russia and toward the West.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control on April 28 issued a new waiver extending sanctions relief through October 30. The sanctions were originally imposed over concerns about the human rights situation in Belarus.

The waivers, which had been scheduled to expire on April 30, allow major Belarussian companies to continue to deal with U.S. businesses.

The extension of the waivers had been in doubt after Belarusian authorities arrested hundreds of people during March in a crackdown on antigovernment protests in Minsk, the capital.

U.S. officials are attempting to encourage the government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to continue its stop-and-start moves to engage more closely with the West. After five years, the European Union in 2016 ended sanctions against Minsk.

The authoritarian Lukashenka has been in office more than two decades in the former Soviet republic and has been a traditional ally of Moscow.

Economic hard times have driven many people to the streets to protest, but his government’s sustained suppression of dissent has limited the effectiveness of the opposition.

Meanwhile, NATO members Poland and the Baltic states have expressed concerns about increased Russian influence in Belarus.

The Estonian defense minister this week said Russia may use planned large-scale military exercises later this year to permanently move thousands of troops into Belarus.

With reporting by Reuters