The White House has announced that the United States will reimpose sanctions on Belarus next week after the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight to the country on May 23 and the arrest of an opposition journalist on board.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, called the incident “a direct affront to international norms” and urged President Alexander Lukashenko to allow a “credible international investigation” into the events and “immediately release all political prisoners” in a scathing statement released Friday night.
On Thursday, Psaki said, the US will reimpose “full blocking restrictions” against nine Belarusian state-owned firms, prohibiting Americans from doing business with them.
The US is also working with the European Union and other allies to develop a list of targeted sanctions against key members of Lukashenko’s regime, according to Psaki, and the Treasury Department is working on a new executive order for Biden that would give him more authority to impose sanctions on “elements” of the regime.
The State Department has advised Americans not to travel to Belarus, while the Federal Aviation Administration has advised airlines to “exercise extreme caution when considering flying in Belarusian airspace.”
Last weekend, while flying from Greece to Lithuania, a European airplane, Ryanair, was diverted to Minsk due to a rumored bomb on board. Security officials detained Roman Protasevich, co-founder of the NEXTA social media news station, which was instrumental in organizing resistance to the autocratic government, and his Russian girlfriend on the ground.
Belarus has been accused of “hijacking” a civilian airliner, despite Belarusian authorities’ claims that they were responding to a genuine bomb threat and trying to protect the passengers. Protasevich and his girlfriend are still being held in detention.