President Biden imposed a new round of economic sanctions on Belarus on Monday, marking the anniversary of an election that many Western governments view as fraudulent and that spurred mass protests in the former Soviet Union country.
Mr. Biden signed a sweeping executive order expanding the number of sectors the United States can target in Belarus, while also issuing the largest tranche of sanctions against the country to date. The White House framed the actions as punishment for the authoritarian tactics of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the brutal strongman who has been in power since 1994 and who claimed to have won the country’s election last year with 80 percent of the vote. The mass demonstrations that followed that election were met with violent police crackdowns.
“Rather than respect the clear will of the Belarusian people, the Lukashenko regime perpetrated election fraud, followed by a brutal campaign of repression to stifle dissent,” Mr. Biden said in a statement on Monday.
Mr. Biden’s executive order authorized the United States to target 17 companies working with Belarus in a range of sectors, including security, energy and transportation, as well as companies producing potash and cigarettes. Also sanctioned were Belaruskali OAO, one of the largest state-owned businesses in the country, and the Belarusian national Olympic committee, which the administration described as being “a tool for Lukashenko and his inner circle to launder funds and evade sanctions.”
Included in the sanctions were 27 individuals who were involved in the violent response to protests last year or the forced landing of a European passenger jet carrying an opposition journalist who was later detained, or who profit from the Belarusian government, according to the Treasury Department.
The United States was joined by Britain in imposing penalties against state-owned companies.
The White House noted in a statement that the sanctions come after the Belarus government attempted to forcibly send home an Olympic sprinter, Kristina Timanovskaya, who said she feared for her safety because she had criticized her coaches and the country’s national committee for registering her for a relay event for which she had not trained. The chairman of the Belarusian Olympic committee is the eldest son of Mr. Lukashenko. Ms. Timanovskaya fled to Poland out of fear for her safety.
The Biden administration had committed to reimposing sanctions on Belarus in May after Mr. Lukashenko forced the landing of a European passenger jet, a Ryanair Boeing 737.
The plane was traveling through Belarusian airspace, from Greece to Lithuania, when it was diverted and forced to land in Minsk, the capital, with an escort from a fighter jet. While Mr. Lukashenko claimed he rerouted the plane because of an emailed bomb threat, Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian opposition journalist who was on the plane and who had been living in exile abroad, was detained along with his girlfriend after the plane landed.
A Swiss email provider has said that the email cited by the Belarusian authorities was sent after the plane had already been diverted.