Belarusian foreign ministry has not yet received official notification of suspension of visa issuance by US embassy in Minsk

The Belarusian foreign ministry has not yet received any official notification from the US embassy in Minsk that it has suspended the issuance of visas to Belarusian citizens, the ministry’s spokesman, Andrey Papow, said at Thursday’s briefing, BelaPAN reports.

On March 19, the US embassy announced on its Web site that it was suspending the issuance of visas because of the Belarusian government’s urgent request for staff cuts.

“The U.S. Government is in the process of reviewing the request made by the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 17 that the U.S. Embassy in Minsk reduce its staffing,” the embassy said. “Therefore, visa processing has been temporarily suspended while our resources are engaged addressing other priorities. Some visa appointments have been postponed. Further information will be provided once the extent of the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide visa services in Belarus has been determined.”

According to Mr. Papow, the Belarusian embassy in Washington continues to fully perform its consular functions and keeps issuing visas to US citizens.

He stressed that the United States’ sanctions against Belarus was the cause of the current crisis situation in relations between the two countries.

The Belarusian foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday that Jonathan Moore, deputy chief of the US diplomatic mission, had been called in and told of Belarus’ “urgent recommendation” that the US embassy in Minsk reduce its staff. The ministry did not give a reason for this demand.

Washington is likely to bow to Belarus' call to cut its embassy staff to avoid breaking diplomatic ties altogether amid a row over sanctions, the US ambassador to Minsk, Karen Stewart, said the following day.

As Ms. Stewart told AFP, Minsk wants equal numbers of diplomats working at the US embassy in Minsk, where there are about 35 staff, and in the Belarusian embassy in Washington, which employs about 20.

Ms. Stewart left Belarus on March 12 under pressure from the Belarusian government. She told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she returned to Washington after the government had threatened to expel her in retaliation for the US sanctions against Belarus’ petrochemical conglomerate Belnaftakhim. «I was not expelled, but they made it clear that that would be the next step if I did not leave,» she said.

Minsk recalled its ambassador to the USA, Mikhail Khvastow, on March 7 «for consultations» after the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a statement with regard to the applicability of the sanctions, which were imposed by the Department as far back as November 2007 over human rights abuses.

The sanctions included freezing any assets under US jurisdiction belonging to Belnaftakhim and barring US citizens from doing business with Belnaftakhim, and applied to its offices in Germany, Latvia, Ukraine, Russia and China, and its US subsidiary identified as Belneftekhim USA, Inc.