US boost relationship with Belarus as Minsk's ties with Moscow are under strain
The Trump administration is likely to appoint a Julie Fisher as US ambassador to Belarus—the first in over a decade—amid its efforts to strengthen ties with a country long considered to be in Russia’s orbit.
The last US ambassador to Minsk was expelled in 2008 after the US tightened sanctions over Belarus’s declining human rights record. Thirty of the 35 diplomats posted to Belarus were also ejected.
In January 2019, Minsk announced that the cap on the number of U.S. diplomats allowed to serve in the country would be lifted, marking a significant diplomatic breakthrough for the two countries.
The move is part of the Trump administration bid to warm ties with Minsk. On Saturday, Mike Pompeo became the first US secretary of state to visit Belarus in over a quarter of a century.
Also Western countries have lifted most sanctions on Belarus since Lukashenko released political prisoners and showed more tolerance for political opposition. Ties also improved after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula that Minsk refused to recognize.
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The Kremlin has historically seen Belarus as a buffer zone between its border and the West, and it has helped prop up president Lukashenko with loans and energy subsidies. But this policy has started to scale back last year. Indeed, relations between the two countries significantly soured after they failed to agree on an oil supply contract for this year.
The dispute fed into a broader argument between the Kremlin and Minsk in which Lukashenko has accused the Moscow of trying to bully Belarus into a union with Russia.
Lukashenko has said he held talks with the US and other western countries to find alternative oil supplies. Russia suspended supplies to refineries in Belarus from January 1, though it partially restored them on January 4.
“The US wants to help Belarus build its own sovereign country. Our energy producers stand ready to deliver 100% of the oil you need at competitive prices,” Pompeo said at a meeting with Belorussian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei. “The United States wants to help Belarus build its own sovereign country. Our energy producers stand ready to deliver 100% of the oil you need at competitive prices,” Pompeo said at a meeting with Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei.