KYIV, Ukraine -- Belarus' Foreign Ministry on Tuesday expressed regret over sanctions that the United States reimposed on nine state-owned companies in the ex-Soviet country, citing human rights violations.
Belarus has become a target of Western sanctions after authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko won his sixth term in office in a widely disputed election in August and unleashed a harsh crackdown on subsequent mass protests that demanded he steps down.
More than 34,000 people have been arrested, many of them beaten, and most prominent opposition figures have fled Belarus or have since been jailed.
On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it was revoking a license that has allowed transactions with nine sanctioned state-owned companies in Belarus since 2015, including the oil company Belneftekhim, which accounts for 30% of the country’s industrial output. U.S. companies will have to wind up transactions with the nine entities by June 3.
“This action is a further consequence of the Belarusian authorities’ flagrant disregard for human rights and Belarus’ failure to comply with its obligations under international human rights law," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Monday.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that the move is “effectively aimed at impairing the material well-being of Belarusian citizens and reducing the economic potential of our country.”
“The interests of businesses, ordinary Belarusians or Americans, security and stability in the region and in the world don't mean anything to Washington in this process. Maybe because our region will be the one paying the price for the consequences of such irresponsible acts,” the ministry said, adding that it reserves the right for an “asymmetrical response.”
The Belarusian government said the country's gross domestic product dropped 0.9% last year; the World Bank's forecast before the U.S. reimposed sanctions on state-owned companies said it would drop 2.7% this year.
“Resumption of the sanctions will weigh heavily on Belarusian state companies amid recession and the sharp drop of the GDP,” independent economist Lev Margolin said. “Repressions are costing Lukashenko, who's running out of money, too much.”