US drawing up targeted sanctions on Belarus officials after plane incident

President Joe Biden says that sanctions against Belarus were “in play”, without giving details

Reuters May 29, 2021
A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich and diverted to Belarus, where authorities detained him, lands at Vilnius Airport in Vilnius, Lithuania. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Biden administration said on Friday it is drawing up a list of targeted sanctions against key members of the Belarusian government following the former Soviet republic’s forced landing of a passenger jet and arrest of a journalist on board.

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said the United States was also suspending a 2019 agreement between Washington and Minsk that allowed carriers from each country to use the other's airspace, and taking other actions against the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.

In a statement, she called on Lukashenko to allow a credible international investigation into the events of May 23, when the Ryanair passenger jet flying from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land in Minsk.

Belarusian authorities scrambled a fighter jet and flagged what turned out to be a false bomb alert to force the plane to land, then detained an opposition journalist who was on board, drawing condemnation from Europe and the United States.

Psaki said the United States, with the EU and other allies, was developing a list of targeted sanctions against key members of Lukashenko's government "associated with ongoing abuses of human rights and corruption, the falsification of the 2020 election, and the events of May 23".

Read more: Kremlin dismisses notion of alleged Russian involvement in Belarus plane incident

The United States last year imposed sanctions on eight Belarus officials over an August 2020 election that the West said was rigged.

President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that sanctions against Belarus were “in play”, without giving details.

The Treasury Department will develop an executive order for Biden to sign that will provide increased authorities to impose sanctions on elements of Lukashenko's government, and the United States will re-impose "full blocking sanctions" on nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises on June 3, prohibiting U.S. persons from dealing with those businesses.

Last month the United States revoked an authorization for certain transactions with the nine sanctioned state-owned enterprises over alleged human rights violations and abuses.