KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Belarus on Wednesday revoked its authorization to appoint the U.S. ambassador and called on the United States to cut staff at its embassy in retaliation for Washington’s sanctions.
President Joe Biden’s administration slapped Belarus with new sanctions on Monday, the anniversary of last year’s elections in Belarus which were denounced by the opposition as rigged. Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has responded to protests against his re-election for a sixth term with a sweeping crackdown that has seen more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
The new US sanctions target the giant Belarusian potash producer which has been one of the country’s main sources of income, the Belarusian National Olympic Committee and 15 private companies linked to Belarusian authorities.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz on Wednesday denounced the US action as “blatant and openly hostile” and announced the decision to cancel an earlier deal for the appointment of Julie Fisher as US ambassador to the country. .
He added that Belarus had also asked the United States to reduce the staff at its embassy in Minsk to five diplomats until September 1.
“In view of Washington’s actions to stop cooperation in all fields and economically strangle our country, we see no reason for the presence of a significant number of diplomats at the US diplomatic mission,” Glaz said in a statement.
While Belarus accepted Fisher’s appointment in December as the first U.S. Ambassador to Belarus since 2008, it never issued him an entry visa. Fisher remained in neighboring Lithuania where she maintains contact with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate in the August 9, 2020 elections, who was forced to leave Belarus under pressure from the authorities.
Commenting on the measures taken by Belarus, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that “Belarusian authorities are responsible for the deterioration of relations between the United States and Belarus through a relentless crackdown on their countries. citizens ”, noting that they have targeted civic groups, media, athletes, students and legal professionals. and others.
“The US government, Ambassador Fisher, the staff at our Embassy in Minsk will continue to support the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people,” Price said. “American diplomats will continue to engage with Belarusians, including leaders of the pro-democracy movement, media professionals, students and other elements of civil society wherever they are.
PA diplomatic writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.