MINSK -- Belarus says it is reducing the permitted number of diplomats and other staff at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk and tightening visa procedures for American citizens, in response to U.S. sanctions imposed on the Eastern European country over a sweeping crackdown on the opposition.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz made the announcement on June 3, without providing specifics.
Glaz said that permission for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to work in the country has also been revoked.
“These measures are targeted. They are designed to send a clear signal to the United States about the futility of pressure and coercion in relations with Belarus,” he said.
The move comes as U.S. sanctions imposed on nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises following Belarus's forced diversion of a Ryanair flight on May 23 and the arrest of a dissident journalist who was on board came into effect.
“Actions have consequences. As a result of the Lukashenka regime's continued disregard for human rights, the U.S. has terminated authorization for business dealings with nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises. The regime's escalation of repressive tactics will not go unanswered,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted earlier in the day.
The White House announced the U.S. measures in late May, saying that Washington was also coordinating with the European Union and other partners to develop a list of targeted sanctions against key members of the Belarusian government "associated with ongoing abuses of human rights and corruption, the falsification of the 2020 election, and the events of May 23."
Glaz on June 3 called the U.S. moves “illegal actions, contrary to international law, and designed to put pressure on a sovereign state.”
Belarus has seen unprecedented protests against authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, following a disputed August presidential election that the opposition says was rigged and many Western nations have refused to acknowledge.
Lukashenka has directed a brutal postelection crackdown in which almost 30,000 people have been detained, many sentenced to lengthy prison terms, hundreds beaten, several killed, and journalists targeted.