The U.S. envoy to Minsk says Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has increased his dependence on Russia to a point where he barely has a say within his own country, even over its military.
Ambassador Julie Fisher, who has been unable to take up her post in Minsk because the Belarusian government has denied her a visa, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 9 that Lukashenka has shown a willingness “to increase dependency on Russia in every possible sphere.”
Fisher said it was not new that Russian troops are in Belarus, but the question of how many is new, adding that the United States will be monitoring upcoming military exercises between Belarus and Russia.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusians continue to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a brutal crackdown on protesters. The West refuses to recognize him as the country’s legitimate leader after an August 9 election considered fraudulent.
Asked whether she could confirm that Russia has asked to put another military base in Belarus, Fisher said she could not.
Fisher also said the arrest of journalist and blogger Raman Pratasevich was further evidence of the regime’s “utter disregard for international norms and human rights and reflects the new lows to which Lukashenka is willing to sink in order to eliminate any trace of dissent.”
She noted Lukashenka’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi just days after Belarus diverted a commercial plane to arrest Pratasevich, who is now jailed in Belarus.
Fisher also said that the United States is “not done by a long shot” on imposing sanctions on Belarus, saying several business sectors are under consideration.
She said that since the economy of Belarus is still largely state-run it is important to acknowledge just how effective sectoral sanctions could be.
The State Department is working with the White House to determine which sectors should be targeted.
Fisher said the U.S. government is strengthening its assistance to the Belarusian people, including more than $20 million in additional regional and global assistance from USAID that has been identified to provide emergency support for people forced to flee Belarus and others supporting the opposition.