The Biden administration has said it is drawing up a list of targeted sanctions against key members of the Belarusian government which forced the landing of a passenger jet and had a journalist on board arrested.
The White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday 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 23 May, 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 the 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”.
The EU has said it will provide Belarus with €3bn (£2.6bn) through grants and loans if the country “changes course” in an attempt to ramp up internal pressure on Lukashenko as he met Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday.
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, came close to an all-out call for regime change as she issued the pledge of funds in return for a “transition” to democracy.
The offer was made shortly before Lukashenko had arrived in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for a summit with the Russian president, whose government has sought to distance itself from last Sunday’s arrest of the opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.
For some years the EU had hoped to wrestle Belarus out of Russia’s sphere of influence but it appears that all hope has been lost with the current regime.
President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that sanctions against Belarus were “in play”.
The US 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 reimpose “full blocking sanctions” on nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises on 3 June, prohibiting US persons from dealing with those businesses.
The United States in 2020 imposed sanctions on eight Belarus officials over an election that the west said was rigged. In April 2021 the United States revoked an authorisation for certain transactions with the nine sanctioned state-owned enterprises over alleged human rights violations and abuses.