In light of the recent unprecedented crackdown on independent media and civil society in Belarus, the Belarus Freedom Forum urges the U.S. government on behalf of Belarusian American Communities to impose economic sanctions to put an end to political repressions. in Belarus. We are grateful for the U.S. government’s decision to join the European Union in its latest effort to sanction individuals responsible for state repressions as well as state-owned companies funding the regime. Yet, these sanctions have already proven to be insufficient. We call for robust sectoral sanctions targeting Belarus oil and potash industries to prevent further reprisals against civil society, force the regime to release political prisoners, and restore political freedoms.
The 2020-2021 Belarusian anti-regime protests were unprecedented in Belarusian history. Their magnitude, persistence, and spread throughout the country have shattered any illusion of popular support for Belarusian autocrat Alyaksandr Lukashenka who has been in power for 27 years. Throughout its reign, the Lukashenka regime relied on violence and repressions to hold on to power.
In the past week alone, the security forces loyal to the regime have raided several independent media outlets and human rights organizations, arrested journalists and human rights activists, and disbarred lawyers defending political prisoners in an attempt to destroy civil society in Belarus. There are no legal instruments available to challenge Lukashenka: the Belarusian judicial and parliamentary systems are subordinated to the president. At the same time, the loyalty of the country’s top officials is guaranteed by lavish monetary support.
With that said, the regime has limited options for bringing in hard currency to sponsor its power vertical and the ever-growing repression apparatus. The country’s oil processing and potash industries are the main ways foreign currency enters Belarus. Sanctioning the state-owned companies responsible for the export of these commodities will hit the financial foundation of Lukashenka’s regime, helping the Belarusian people to sustain their nonviolent struggle. We call on the U.S. government to sanction two such companies: JSC Belaruskali and Belneftekhim Concern, together with all of its current and former subsidiaries.
Belaruskali is one of the world’s largest potash fertilizer producers, and the United States is its fifth-biggest market. Depriving the company of U.S. customers will harm Lukashenka’s ability to engage in state violence. We, therefore, call on the U.S. government to instruct American companies to cease all business dealings with Belaruskali, its known proxies, and associates. Additionally, sanctioning Belneftekhim has been a priority to our European partners for more than a decade. The company is among the dozens of oil processing proxies of Lukashenka used to extract revenues which are currently on the EU sanctions list. We urge the U.S. government to close American markets to Belneftekhim and bar all financial transactions involving the company and its proxies.
The 2006 and 2011 U.S. economic sanctions have been exceptionally effective in forcing the regime to stop escalating its suppression of people’s political freedoms. Today, the mere possibility of U.S. sanctions forces Lukashenka’s inner circle to seek the protection of Congressional lobbyists and hide their assets overseas. The United States still has the strongest economic leverage against Lukashenka, and we urge the U.S. government to use it. Economic sanctions against the most significant export-oriented companies would be the most effective measure to force the regime to stop repressions, release political prisoners, and start a dialogue with the democratic movement. Belarusian people deserve to live in an independent and democratic Belarus.
Belarus Freedom Forum