Gardner Takes On Sanction Evasion by the Lukashenka Dictatorship in Belarus

Washington, D.C. – Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) is urging the Obama Administration to investigate the evasion of U.S. sanctions by the Belarus state-owned potash company, Belaruskali, which has allowed this entity to resume exports of potash to the United States. The Department of Treasury has written to Senator Gardner to say that it will “evaluate the sanctions with respect to Belarus to ensure that they are fully implemented.” Senator Gardner plans to meet with top officials from the Department of Treasury to press the matter in the near future.           

In 2006, the U.S. Government imposed sanctions against specified individuals and entities in Belarus in response to human rights abuses being perpetrated by the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Less than a year later, the U.S. Government added Belneftekhim Concern, a state-owned consortium of companies in the petrochemical and chemical sectors, as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs), a designation which generally prohibits U.S. persons from dealing with that entity.

Despite U.S. sanctions, the human rights situation in Belarus has not improved.  The Department of State’s 2013 report on human rights in Belarus stated that Belarus is an “authoritarian state”, where “human rights problems included abuses by security forces, which beat detainees and protesters and reportedly used torture or mistreatment during investigations.”  The report concludes: “Authorities at all levels operated with impunity and failed to take steps to prosecute or punish officials in the government or security forces who committed human rights abuses.”

In February 2014, the Lukashenko Government spun Belaruskali out from under the Belneftekhim Concern umbrella.  Press reports at the time quoted Belarus government officials as saying that this maneuver was intended specifically to evade U.S. sanctions. 

Upon learning of this evasion, Senator Gardner sent a letter to the Department of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry, expressing his concern that the United States Government should not permit the Lukashenka Government to evade sanctions. Other Members of Congress have expressed their concern as well, calling for action to address this situation.   

Today, Senator Gardner reiterated his concerns, calling on the Administration to immediately investigate this matter. 

“There is little evidence that the Lukashenko regime has ceased abusing the human rights of its own people, but ample evidence that it is trying all means to avoid the punishment it deserves. I call on the Administration to investigate the Belaruskali matter swiftly and thoroughly, and if determined that sanctions evasion has occurred, to immediately impose U.S. sanctions on Belaruskali. I’m glad that the Treasury Department has said it’s investigating this matter, and will continue to press for updates and more information.”   

A copy of Senator Gardner’s original letter to Secretary Lew and Secretary Kerry is available here.