Houston (Platts)--31Jan2011/244 pm EST/1944 GMT
The US Monday said it was putting sanctions on doing business with the Belarus state-owned oil and petrochemicals companies because of Western concerns over how the Lukashenko government is treating its opposition since a December 19 election.
"The disproportionate use of force and initial detentions of hundreds of demonstrators; charging of five opposition presidential candidates; ongoing raids against civil society, media and political parties; the closure of the OSCEs office in Minsk; and a flawed vote count all represent major steps backwards for the country," the US Department of State said in a statement.
"These actions oblige the United States and others in the international community to act," the agency added.
The US statement characterized the actions of the government of Belarus as a "brutal crackdown."
The US response includes revoking a general license that had temporarily authorized US persons to engage in otherwise prohibited transactions with Lakokraska OAO and Polotsk Steklovolokno OAO, two blocked subsidiaries of Belarus' largest state-owned petroleum and chemical conglomerate, Belneftekhim. Now, all transactions with Belneftekhim and its subsidiaries are blocked pursuant to Executive Order 13405, the State Department added.
In addition, the US "is significantly expanding" the list of Belarusian officials subject to travel restrictions, preventing their entry to the US, and looks to impose financial sanctions against additional Belarusian individuals and/or entities.
"The criteria for inclusion on these lists are participation in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions, or responsibility for human rights abuses related to political repression," the State Department said.
Meanwhile, Belarus is set to receive its first oil from Azerbaijan in the next few days under a swap scheme with Venezuela, after a tanker carrying 81,000 mt of crude docked Saturday at the Ukraine port of Yuzhny, a spokesman for Belarusian Oil Company said earlier Monday (See story, 1632 GMT). Last week, Russia's national oil pipeline operator Transneft said it resumed supplies of Russian crude to Belarus, following the signing of contracts between Russian suppliers and Belarusian refineries; supplies to Belarus were stopped on January 1 as the companies could not agree on a price formula for this year.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has said his government will not capitulate to policy demands by foreign governments.
--Katharine Fraser, firstname.lastname@example.org