President Joe Biden on Monday signed an executive order imposing new measures aimed at punishing Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko as the US steps up pressure against his government in co-ordinated action with the UK and Canada.
On the anniversary of the presidential election Mr Lukashenko is accused of rigging, the US will also issue its largest round of sanctions to date on Belarusian people and entities, taking aim at the country's economy and the Belarusian National Olympic Committee, a White House official said.
“Today, we are issuing a new executive order that enhances our ability to impose costs on the regime and announcing new sanctions against Belarusian individuals and entities for their role in attacks on democracy and human rights, transnational repression and corruption,” Mr Biden said in a statement on the sanctions.
“As I told the leader of the Belarusian opposition, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, we stand with the people of Belarus as they bravely pursue their democratic aspirations.”
The US Treasury Department will blacklist Belaruskali OAO, which the official said is one of Belarus’s largest state-owned enterprises and one of the world’s largest producers of potash, a product used in fertilisers.
The Belarusian National Olympic Committee will also be hit with sanctions in Monday's action, the official said, over accusations it enabled money laundering, sanctions evasion and the circumvention of visa bans.
The action comes after Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya refused to board a flight home during the Olympics after she was taken to the airport against her wishes. She has since sought refugee status in Poland.
Western governments have looked to escalate pressure on Mr Lukashenko, who is accused of rigging elections in August 2020 and cracking down on the opposition to prolong his now 27 years in power. Mr Lukashenko has denied rigging the vote.
Tens of thousands of people joined street protests in 2020 — Mr Lukashenko's biggest challenge since he became president in 1994. He responded with a crackdown in which many opponents have been arrested or gone into exile. They deny planning a coup.
“One year ago today, the people of Belarus sought to make their voices heard and shape their own future through that most basic expression of democracy — an election,” Mr Biden said. “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.
“The United States will continue to stand up for human rights and free expression, while holding [Mr Lukashenko] accountable, in concert with our allies and partners.”
The UK announced its new sanctions on Monday, focused on exports of oil products and potash. Mr Lukashenko said Britain would “choke” on its measures and that he was ready for talks with the West instead of a sanctions war.
Canada also imposed new sanctions on Belarus to protest what it called the “gross and systematic violations of human rights” under Mr Lukashenko.
The US sanctions follow an incident in May during which a Ryanair flight carrying an opposition journalist was forced into an emergency landing at Minsk airport.
Following his arrest, a video surfaced of Mr Protasevich, 26, apparently confessing to organising mass protests last year against Mr Lukashenko.
In his short statement, which appears scripted, he said he was being treated correctly and was co-operating with investigators.
Western powers responded with outrage over the incident, with the EU banning Belarusian airlines from its airspace.
Reuters contributed to this report