Belarus will close the American embassy’s USAID and Public Diplomacy offices today which focused on providing foreign aid and assisting political development.
The offices served to promote democratic values, independent civil society, and free-market entrepreneurship. The move comes following growing tensions between the US and Belarus over authoritarianism in the country.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko remains unrecognized by Western democracies following last year’s elections, which outsiders consider illegitimate. To reprimand Lukashenko’s power grab and a subsequent authoritarian crackdown on dissent, Washington imposed sanctions on Belarusian officials, prompting today’s expulsions in retaliation. Minsk has taken many retaliatory measures seeking to end sanctions and gain recognition, most notably engineering a migrant crisis on Poland’s border.
Expect today’s expulsions to further strain US-Belarusian relations. In the short-term, it is highly unlikely Washington will recognize Lukashenko due to his regime’s authoritarianism, a crackdown on freedoms, and proximity to Russia. Instead, expect sanctions targeting the Belarusian President to ramp up. Washington is also likely to target airlines responsible for transferring migrants to Belarus. Without the USAID and Public Diplomacy offices, the Belarusian public will likely experience harsher crackdowns on public freedoms in the medium-term without external organizations to protect and promote them.
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Wescott is a Copy-Editor and Senior Analyst. His thematic focuses are international security, politics, economics and public policy.