"For many years, the United States pursued a policy of 'selective engagement,' which limited ties to the regime while providing modest support to pro-democracy organizations in Belarus. The United States and the European Union also imposed sanctions on Belarusian leaders. In March 2008, Belarus withdrew its ambassador from Washington and forced the United States to recall its ambassador from Minsk, in response to what Belarus perceived as a tightening of U.S. sanctions. In 2008, the United States and European Union changed tactics in their policy toward to Belarus. They moved to suspend some sanctions against the regime in exchange for very modest improvements on human rights issues. In October 2008, the EU suspended a travel ban on Lukashenko and other Belarusian leaders, and has extended the suspension several times since then. The United States has relaxed sanctions against several subsidiaries of the state-owned oil and petrochemicals firm Belneftekhim. Analysts have attributed the policy shift, in which the EU has played the leading role, to a variety of factors, including concerns about Russia's increasing assertiveness in its relations with neighboring countries, especially after Russia's military assault on Georgia in August 2008. In May 2009, Belarus was permitted to join the EU's Eastern Partnership program, which could provide Belarus with EU aid and other forms of cooperation. This EU opening toward Belarus has continued despite the fact that Belarus has failed to make progress on human rights issues and has even regressed in some areas."
CRS Report for Congress, RL32534