The Treasury Department has extended limited sanctions relief related to certain Belarusian entities through April 2017. On October 18, 2016, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a general license which continues the partial easing of restrictive measures originally adopted in October 2015. The relief, which was extended by six months, covers certain transactions with the following nine entities: Belarusian Oil Trade House; Belneftekhim; Belneftekhim USA, Inc.; Belshina OAO; Grodno Azot OAO; Grodno Khimvolokno OAO; Lakokraska OAO; Naftan OAO; and Polotsk Steklovolokno OAO.
According to the license, all transactions previously prohibited by Executive Order 13405 (signed by President Bush in 2006) involving the entities listed above, or any entities they own 50 percent or more, are permitted. Such transactions include (i) the provision of funds, goods, or services to these entities, (ii) receipt of funds, goods, or services from these entities, and (iii) dealings in securities that are registered in the name of, held for the benefit of, or issued by such entities.
Importantly, assets of the nine entities blocked prior to October 30, 2015 remain blocked, effectively permitting the engagement in new transactions only. Further, US persons taking advantage of the authorizations must report the details of their transactions to the State Department within 30 days, if the transaction or any series of transactions exceeds $50,000. (The reporting requirements were updated in April 2016. The original license issued in October 2015 required reporting within 15 days on any transaction or series of transactions exceeding $10,000).
Sanctions relief was originally granted by the US and EU in 2015 following domestic reforms implemented by the government of President Lukashenko. In addition, his support for a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine has led to tentative thawing of relations. The announcement marks the second time that the US government has extended the general license since then. At the time of the first extension in April 2016, OFAC simultaneously relaxed reporting requirements. This time around, no additional amendments to the license have been made.
On February 25, 2016 the EU terminated most of its sanctions against Belarus, while maintaining the arms embargo and designation of four individuals through February 28, 2017. The US has yet to permanently suspend any sanctions. While relations seem to be warming, human rights in Belarus are still of concern, and any more permanent decisions by the US regarding sanctions against the country remain to be seen. It will be interesting to see whether the EU allows its remaining restrictions to expire in February of next year. That decision could shed some light on the US’s feelings towards Minsk, but, as evidenced so far, EU and US sanctions policy does not always evolve in concert.