Biden admin condemns, sanctions Belarus over forced landing of commercial jet, arrest of journalist

Last Sunday, the former Soviet republic of Belarus faked a bomb threat and forced a commercial airliner to land in its capital of Minsk so that a dissident journalist on board could be removed and arrested for his activism against the authoritarian regime.

On Friday, President Joe Biden’s White House finally announced several sanctions it would impose as punishment against Belarus for its “direct affront” to international laws and norms while condemning the leader of the country, Politico reported.

In addition to a formal condemnation of Belarus’ actions, the Biden administration demanded the journalist and his traveling companion be released, announced warnings against traveling to the Eastern European country, re-imposed prior sanctions that had been previously lifted, and revealed an intent to impose additional sanctions against the regime’s leadership.

“A direct affront to international norms”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that “Belarus’s forced diversion of a commercial Ryanair flight under false pretenses, traveling between two member states of the European Union, and the subsequent removal and arrest of Raman Pratasevich, a Belarusian journalist, are a direct affront to international norms.”

“These events took place amid an escalating wave of repression by the Lukashenka regime against the aspirations of the people of Belarus for democracy and human rights,” she added.

Psaki went on to lay out in detail the actions that the Biden administration will take in response and strongly suggested that more punishments would soon be forthcoming.

Sanctions and warnings issued

Aside from joining several European entities in formal condemnation of what occurred, the actions by the Biden administration included the State Department issuing a “Level 4 Do Not Travel” advisory for Americans to avoid Belarus, while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly advised U.S. carriers to avoid or exercise extreme caution when crossing into Belarusian airspace.

The U.S. Treasury Department, as of June 3, will re-impose prior sanctions against nine state-owned enterprises in Belarus and prohibit Americans from doing business with them. Along those lines, Treasury was also working on the development of additional sanctions that will specifically target key members of the offending regime for this incident as well as other recent transgressions.

Furthermore, the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI will work with their European counterparts in investigating what occurred, while the U.S. will also suspend a 2019 Air Services Agreement it had reached with Belarus.

“We take these measures, together with our partners and Allies, to hold the regime accountable for its actions and to demonstrate our commitment to the aspirations of the people of Belarus,” Psaki said. “We call on Lukashenka to allow a credible international investigation into the events of May 23, immediately release all political prisoners, and enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue with the leaders of the democratic opposition and civil society groups that leads to the conduct of free and fair Presidential elections under OSCE auspices and monitoring.”

EU takes action against Belarus

The Associated Press reported earlier in the week that the European Union had acted swiftly to condemn and sanction Belarus for what it described as a “highjacking,” including banning Belarusian airlines from crossing over or landing in any of the 27 member nations.

The EU also demanded the immediate release of the journalist and his girlfriend, launched an international investigation, urged member nations to avoid Belarus, and placed on hold an economic aid package, among other actions.

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