Belarus revokes consent to US ambassador, demands embassy staff cuts over sanctions

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Belarus has revoked its consent to appoint Julie Fisher as US ambassador and ordered a reduction in staff at the US embassy in Minsk, the Eastern European country’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday. East.

The measures were announced two days after the administration of President Joe Biden, in a coordinated move with the United Kingdom and Canada, announced new sanctions against several Belarusian individuals and entities in an effort to punish the President of the hard line Alexander Lukashenko.

Describing it as “our reaction to their hostile and even aggressive actions”, Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatol Glaz said Minsk had informed the United States that it 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 trust 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 that trust is gone.” back”.

Sworn in as US ambassador in Minsk in December, Fisher has not yet been able to enter Belarus, which initially dragged its feet in issuing her a visa.

“In the context of Washington’s actions to reduce cooperation in all areas and the economic strangulation of our country, we objectively see no reason for the US diplomatic mission to maintain high staff 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 inquiries, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Wednesday that Belarusian authorities were responsible for deteriorating 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 others were calling for a coup.

The White House said in a statement 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 for “repression and abuses transnational corporations, affronts to international norms, and corruption.”

The statement specifically mentions the forced 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 Ryanair flight hijacking in May, in addition to releasing 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’ in an apparent reference to Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who fled to Poland after her coaches tried to force her to leave. returning 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 democratic opposition and civil society figures that will lead to a free and fair presidential election.”

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

Tatyana Chistikova contributed.

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