2020.04.21 12:24

US nominates first ambassador to Belarus in over a decade

RFE/RL 2020.04.21 12:24

The United States has named its first ambassador to Belarus in more than a decade. Washington has previously pledged Minsk to help build a souvereign country, as recent months saw a flurry of activity between Vilnius, as well as EU and US diplomats, and Belarus.

US President Donald Trump announced on April 20 that he intended to nominate career diplomat Julie Fisher, a top State Department official for Europe, to the embassy in Minsk.

Read more: Lukashenko is lying to Lithuania and the West – opinion

Fisher previously held assignments at NATO and served in Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine. The Senate must first approve her appointment, but it’s unclear when hearings will be held as lawmakers are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and will later hit the election trail.

The United States recalled its ambassador to Minsk in 2008 when authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko ordered a reduction of US diplomatic staff in the country.

The deterioration in relations came after Washington imposed sanctions in response to human rights abuses and a political crackdown around the 2006 Belarusian presidential election. Since then, both countries' embassies have been represented at the chargés d'affaires level.

In the first visit to Belarus by a top US diplomat since 1994, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in February met with Lukashenko in Minsk and said the United States sought closer ties with the country.

The rapprochement between the United States and Belarus comes as Minsk balances political and economic reliance on neighboring Russia with a desire to foster closer ties with the West.

Read more: US pledges to help Belarus ‘build its own sovereign country’

While the United States says Belarus doesn’t need to choose between Moscow and Washington, Pompeo said in February that the United States "wants to help Belarus build its own sovereign country".

Pompeo also said the United States would continue to push for human rights reforms while developing economic ties, including US oil exports at a time Belarus has been in a long-running pricing dispute with Russia.

The row over oil comes amid a broader dispute between Moscow and Minsk in which Lukashenko has accused the Kremlin of trying to pressure Belarus into a deeper union with Russia.

The United States and Belarus first announced plans to exchange ambassadors in September 2019 when top State Department official David Hale met with Lukashenko in Minsk.

Read more: Lithuania nudges Belarus out of Russia's energy grip

Washington, in another boost to its ties with Belarus, on January 31 omitted it from a list of countries under a travel ban after earlier signaling its possible inclusion.

The United States and the European Union also eased sanctions on Belarus in 2016.

The story originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The first paragraph was added by LRT English.