Belarus revokes US ambassador’s consent, demands embassy staff cuts following sanctions

Belarus has revoked its consent to the appointment of Julie Fisher as US ambassador and has ordered a reduction in staff at the US embassy in Minsk, the European country’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday. from the east.

The measures were announced two days after President Joe Biden’s administration, in a move coordinated with the UK and Canada, announced new sanctions against several Belarusian individuals and entities in a bid to punish hardline President Alexander Lukashenko.

Describing this as “our reaction to their hostile and even aggressive actions,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatol Glaz said Minsk had informed the United States that he wanted embassy staff to be reduced to five people by September 1. His comments were posted on the ministry’s website.

The United States Embassy in Minsk.AP file

Minsk had “lost confidence in the current US administration,” he said, adding that his government would “suspend cooperation in all new projects, grants and programs coordinated by the US government until such confidence is over. back”.

As U.S. Ambassador to Minsk in December, Fisher has yet to enter Belarus, which was initially slow to issue her a visa.

“Against the background of Washington’s actions to reduce cooperation in all fields and the economic strangulation of our country, we objectively see no reason for the US diplomatic mission to maintain high numbers in Belarus,” Glaz said.

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The ministry also reiterated Lukashenko’s recent statement that the country was ready for talks with the West instead of a sanctions war.

Responding to requests, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Wednesday that Belarusian authorities were responsible for the deterioration of relations between the two countries “through a relentless crackdown on their citizens.”

Members of civil society, the media, athletes, legal professionals and other citizens have all been targeted, he said.

He added that US diplomats “would continue to engage with delegations, including leaders of the pro-democracy movement.”

Biden announced new sanctions against Belarus on Monday, as the country marked the first anniversary of Lukashenko’s election victory. Opponents claimed he was rigged to extend his 27 years in power. He said he won the vote fairly and that others are calling for a coup.

The White House said in a press release that the sanctions were imposed in response to “the Lukashenko regime’s continued assault on the democratic aspirations and human rights of the Belarusian people”, as well as “transnational repression and abuse, affronts to international standards and corruption” .

The statement specifically mentioned the forcible hijacking of a Ryanair commercial flight, which led to the arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich in Minsk last May.

Belarus must allow a “legitimate international investigation” into the hijacking of May’s Ryanair flight, in addition to freeing all political prisoners and ending the targeting of activists and dissidents, he said.

He also accused Belarus of “threatening the safety of an Olympic athlete outside its borders” apparently referring to Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who fled to Poland after her coaches attempted to kill her. force her to return home after the Tokyo Olympics after she criticized them in Public.

He also called on the Lukashenko regime to “engage in a genuine and comprehensive political dialogue with the democratic opposition and figures from civil society which will lead to a free and fair presidential election”.

Chantal Da Silva reported from London and Abigail Williams from Washington DC

Tatiana Chistikova contributed.