The Belarusian foreign ministry has announced plans for the reduction of US diplomatic staff in the country and tightening visa procedures for the Americans after Washington imposed sanctions against a number of companies in Belarus.
Anatoly Glaz, the ministry spokesman, announced the retaliatory move in a statement on Thursday, saying the United States would have to cut its diplomatic and administrative staff in Belarus.
Glaz also said the Belarusian foreign ministry has revoked the permission of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) — a US agency purportedly responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance — to work in the country.
The US administration said in April that it would impose sanctions on nine state-owned companies in Belarus over Minsk’s alleged human rights violations and abuses.
The sanctions came into effect earlier Thursday.
Glaz censured the US sanctions against his country, saying, "These actions are illegal, contradict international law and are aimed at putting pressure on a sovereign state.”
Washington has also threatened Belarus with more sanctions after Minsk forced a Lithuania-bound airliner to land and arrested a dissident journalist onboard.
The European Union banned Belarusian airlines last week from using the airspace of the 27-nation bloc and called on air carriers based in the EU to avoid flying over the country after Belarusian law enforcement forces detained dissident figure Roman Protasevich, who was among the passengers of a plane that had earlier been diverted to the Minsk airport.
On May 23, a Ryanair passenger plane heading from Greece to Lithuania was forced to make an emergency landing at Minsk International Airport, following a reported bomb scare that proved to be a false threat later.
Belarusian law enforcement forces detained Protasevich, the co-founder of a Telegram channel that is viewed as extremist by the Belarus government, as well as a female companion identified as Sofia Sapega.
Belarus’ state TV said Protasevich had confessed to organizing “riots” after a disputed presidential election in August, when Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko won.