A top Belarusian diplomat who had been appointed the first ambassador to the United States in nearly 12 years has died.
Deputy Foreign Minister Aleh Krauchanka died suddenly on December 25, Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatol Hlaz told journalists. He did not provide a cause of death for the 49-year-old.
Krauchanka had not yet taken up his post in Washington and was still in Belarus when he died, he said.
The career diplomat was one of the top officials dealing with relations with the United States, having served as charge d'affaires to Washington and head of the Foreign Ministry's Americas department for nearly a decade before being appointed as deputy foreign minister in 2017.
Krauchanka was appointed ambassador to the United States in July amid signs of a rapprochement between Minsk and Washington.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusians take to the streets to demand the resignation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and call for new elections after official results from the August 9 presidential poll gave Lukashenka a landslide victory.
But that nascent warming of relations has since cooled due to a brutal crackdown on protesters in the wake of the contested August reelection of Belarus strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed sanctions on Lukashenka and his allies, citing election irregularities and the police crackdown.
The United States recalled its ambassador to Minsk in 2008 when Lukashenka ordered a reduction of U.S. diplomatic staff in the country after Washington imposed sanctions in response to human rights abuses and a political crackdown around the 2006 Belarusian presidential election.
Both countries' embassies have been represented at the charges d'affaires level, but the two sides in 2019 agreed to exchange ambassadors for the first time since 2008.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate approved Julie Fisher, deputy assistant secretary for Western Europe and the European Union, as the new U.S. ambassador to Belarus.
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