US extends sanctions against Belarus for 1 year

Obama administration extends sanctions against Belarus, move aimed at democratic reform

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States has extended sanctions against Belarus aimed at pressuring democratic reform.

The White House said the sanctions target specific officials and citizens who have undermined democratic institutions, committed human rights abuses or benefited from corruption.

A statement released Tuesday acknowledged the 2008 release of political prisoners by Minsk. But it added that "serious challenges remain." An executive order by President Barack Obama extends the sanctions for one year.

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh denounced the U.S. sanctions as "useless and confrontational." He said that Belarus considers lifting the sanctions a key condition for improving relations with Washington.

Belarus' first post-Soviet leader, Stanislav Shushkevich, said the U.S. move would make it more difficult for President Alexander Lukashenko to win concessions from the Kremlin by threatening to forge closer ties with the West if Russia refused to maintain subsidies for Belarus' Soviet-style economy.

"Lukashenko has bad relations with the United States, Europe and Russia, and that's pretty bad for him ahead of presidential elections" set for next year, Shushkevich said.

Belarus' relations with its main ally and sponsor, Russia, has worsened in recent years as Moscow has raised prices for oil and gas supplies to Belarus. Lukashenko has accused Russia of trying to wrest control over his nation's key economic assets.

Alexander Klaskovsky, an independent Minsk-based political analyst, said Washington's move sent a signal to Lukashenko that he needs to conduct democratic reforms to improve ties. He added that the U.S. decision came as a "painful blow to Minsk amid disputes with Russia."


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