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Belarus - Relations with U.S. (Notes)

The United States recognized Belarusian independence on December 25, 1991. After the two countries established diplomatic relations, the U.S. Embassy in Minsk was officially opened on January 31, 1992. Ambassador David H. Swartz, the first Ambassador to Belarus, officially assumed post on August 25, 1992--the first anniversary of Belarusian independence--and departed post on completion of his term in late January 1994. On November 7, 1994, Ambassador Kenneth S. Yalowitz assumed post. He was succeeded by Ambassador Daniel V. Speckhard, who served from August 1997 to August 2000, spending one year recalled to Washington because of a dispute between the government and Western embassies over the confiscation of diplomatic residences. Michael G. Kozak served as U.S. Ambassador from October 2000 to August 2003. George A. Krol served as U.S. Ambassador from September 2003 to July 2006. Karen Brevard Stewart replaced Ambassador Krol as U.S. Ambassador and arrived in Belarus on September 18, 2006.

The two countries exchanged top-level official visits in the early years of independence. Stanislav Shushkevich, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus, met with President Clinton in Washington in July 1992, and President Clinton visited Belarus in January 1994. After this high point in relations, however, bilateral relations cooled following the election of President Alexander Lukashenko in July 1994.

In September 1995 three hot air balloons participating in the Coupe Gordon Bennett race entered Belarusian air space. Despite the fact that race organizers informed the Belarusian Government about the race in May and that flight plans had been filed, the Belarusian air force shot down one balloon, killing two American citizens, and forced the other two to land. The crews of the other two balloons were fined for entering Belarus without a visa and released. Belarus to date has not apologized or offered compensation for these killings.

In November 1996, the Lukashenko regime conducted an internationally unrecognized constitutional referendum, which resulted in the dissolution of Belarus' legitimate parliament and the centralization of power in the executive branch. In that same year, the Belarusian authorities provoked a diplomatic crisis by demanding and, in contravention of international law, eventually confiscating diplomatic residences in the Drozdy housing compound, including the U.S. Ambassador's residence. This action led the United States and other countries to withdraw their ambassadors from Belarus until the Belarusian authorities provided compensation and guarantees to respect international law. In addition, Lukashenko used his newly centralized power to repress human rights throughout the country, including persecuting members of the illegally disbanded Belarusian parliament (13th Supreme Soviet) and former members of his own government.

As a result of these events and tendencies, in 1997, the United States announced its decision to pursue a 'selective engagement' policy with the Government of Belarus. This policy included downgrading government-to-government contacts to the level of Assistant Secretary and below, and restricting U.S. Government assistance to the Belarusian Government--with some exceptions including humanitarian assistance and exchange programs with state-run educational institutions. At the same time, the U.S. greatly expanded contacts with Belarusian civil society to promote democratization in Belarus.

Since 1997, despite growing U.S. engagement with Belarusian society, official bilateral relations have remained at a low level. In 2003, the United States, in tandem with the European Union, proposed a step-by-step, gradual approach to improve bilateral relations: the United States would respond positively to genuine efforts by Belarusian authorities to improve Belarus' human rights and electoral practices. Belarusian authorities failed to take such steps to warrant a positive response.

In October 2004, the U.S. Congress passed, and the President signed, the Belarus Democracy Act, designed to promote democratization. In signing the act, President Bush noted that the authorities were turning Belarus into 'a regime of repression in the heart of Europe,' and set out the U.S. policy of working 'with our allies and partners to assist those seeking to return Belarus to its rightful place among the Euro-Atlantic community of democracies.' Together with the EU, the U.S. has imposed targeted sanctions against Belarusian officials implicated in human rights abuses and election fraud, including travel restrictions and targeted financial sanctions imposed in 2006 after the deeply flawed presidential election. To underscore U.S. support for the Belarusian people's democratic aspirations, the President and Secretary of State met with a number of Belarusian activists in 2005 and 2006. U.S. assistance supports democratic political forces, civil society, exchanges, education and independent media, including external broadcasting, to help those promoting democracy and providing access to independent information in Belarus. On January 12, 2007, President Bush signed the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act, which calls for targeted sanctions against Belarusian officials and continued assistance for democracy building activities. In June 2007 in Prague, Czech Republic, President Bush met with former presidential candidate Aleksandr Milinkevich and Olga Kozulina, the daughter of political prisoner Aleksandr Kozulin.

U.S.-Belarusian Economic Relations
The U.S. Government continues to support the development of the private sector in Belarus and its transition to a free market economy. With the advent of the Lukashenko regime, Belarusian authorities have pursued a generally hostile policy toward the private sector and have refused to initiate the basic economic reforms necessary to create a market-based economy. Most of the Belarusian economy remains in government hands. The government, in particular the presidential administration, exercises control over most enterprises in all sectors of the economy. In addition to driving away many major foreign investors--largely through establishment of a 'Golden Share' requirement, which allows government control in all companies with foreign investment--Belarus' centralization and command approach to the economy has left only a trickle of U.S. Government and international assistance programs in this field.

In February 1993, a bilateral trade treaty guaranteeing reciprocal most-favored-nation status entered into force. In January 1994, the U.S. and Belarus signed a bilateral investment treaty, which has been ratified by Belarus but has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate. In addition, due to continuing repression of labor rights in Belarus, the U.S. removed Belarus from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) in 2000.

The United States has encouraged Belarus to conclude and adhere to agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on macroeconomic stabilization and related reform measures, as well as to undertake increased privatization and to create a favorable climate for business and investment. Although there has been some American direct private investment in Belarus, its development has been relatively slow. An Overseas Private Investment Corporation agreement was signed in June 1992 but has been suspended since 1995 because Belarus did not fulfill its obligations under the agreement. Belarus is eligible for Export-Import Bank short-term financing insurance for U.S. investments, but because of the adverse business climate, no projects have been initiated. The IMF granted standby credit in September 1995, but Belarus fell off the program and did not receive the second tranche of funding, which had been scheduled for regular intervals throughout 1996. Since that time, Belarus has had an ongoing discussion to relaunch IMF-backed reforms, concluding an IMF Staff-Monitored Program (SMP) in 2001, which ended in September 2001 with relatively disappointing results. In early 2004, Belarus halted negotiations on a follow-on stand-by arrangement due to disagreements with the IMF on macroeconomic policy and claiming that it did not require IMF funding.

Because of the unpredictable and at times hostile environment for investors, the U.S. Government currently does not encourage U.S. companies to invest in Belarus. Belarus' continuing problems with an opaque, arbitrary legal system, a confiscatory tax regime, cumbersome licensing system, price controls, and lack of an independent judiciary create a business environment not conducive to prosperous, profitable investment. In fact, several U.S. investors in Belarus have left, including the Ford Motor Company.

U.S. Assistance to Belarus
U.S. Government assistance programs in Belarus support and encourage civil society development, access to independent information, pro-democracy forces, and the emergence of democracy in a very difficult and challenging environment. Most assistance is in the form of training and exchanges, as well as small grants and capacity-building for local non-governmental organizations. The U.S. also supports external radio broadcasting into Belarus. Because the Belarusian authorities have not embraced market reforms, the U.S. is able to program only modest activities in support of private entrepreneurs. The U.S. provides some health program funding and supports international organizations' efforts in Belarus to combat the growing problem of trafficking in persons. With very limited exceptions, including humanitarian assistance and exchange programs involving state-run educational institutions, bilateral assistance is not channeled through the Government of Belarus.

From FY 1992 through FY 1995, the U.S. Government provided more than $455 million in assistance to Belarus, and transferred over $233 million in U.S. Defense Department excess and privately donated humanitarian commodities. Assistance is provided to Belarus under the Freedom for Russia and Emerging Eurasian Democracies and Open Markets (FREEDOM) Support Act (FSA) enacted in October 1992. U.S. Government assistance to Belarus peaked in 1994 at a level of approximately $76 million (consisting of more than $16 million in FREEDOM Support Act funds and some $60 million in funds from various U.S. Government agencies). However, U.S. assistance levels dropped sharply due to the lack of progress in democratic and economic reform after the coming to power of Alexander Lukashenko in mid-1994.

Belarus was previously a recipient of assistance under the U.S. Defense Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, whose objective is to reduce the threat posed to the United States by weapons of mass destruction remaining on the territory of the former Soviet Union, by promoting denuclearization and demilitarization, and preventing weapons proliferation. However, in February 1997, due to the Belarusian Government's poor record on human rights, President Clinton de-certified Belarus, rendering the country ineligible for further CTR assistance and placing restrictions on other security-related assistance as well. The United States and Belarus signed a government-to-government umbrella agreement on CTR assistance in 1992, seven agency-to-agency CTR implementing agreements, and one memorandum of understanding and cooperation; the umbrella agreement was extended for one year in October 1997, but has now expired.

For more detailed information on U.S. Government assistance to Belarus, please see the annual reports to Congress on U.S. Government Assistance to and Cooperative Activities with Eurasia, which are available in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs section on the State Department's website. A fact sheet on FY 2005 U.S. Assistance to Belarus can be found at Information is also available on the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) website at the address:

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Karen Brevard Stewart
Deputy Chief of Mission--Jonathan Moore
Political/Economic Officer--Louis Crishock
Consular Officer--Sara Michael
Management Officer--Kirby Nelson
Regional Security Officer--Christine Putz
Public Affairs Officer--William James
Defense Attaché--Lt Colonel Keith Detwiler
Information Program Officer--Mark Hall
USAID--Chuck HowellThe U.S. Embassy in Minsk, Belarus is located at Starovilenskaya 46; tel: (375-17) 210-12-83; fax: (375-17) 234-78-53.

Facts at a Glance: Geography - People - Government - Economy - Communications - Transportation - Military - Climate - Current Time - Ranking Positions - Belarusian Rouble Exchange Rates
Notes and Commentary: Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.

Facts at a Glance
Current Time
Ranking Positions
Belarusian Rouble Exchange Rates

Notes and Commentary
Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
Foreign Relations
Relations with U.S.

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