The United States is lifting sanctions on a Belarus energy company, underscoring a thaw in relations in the wake of Minsk's key role in negotiations over Ukraine.

The US announced online that it was lifting sanctions against Belorusneft that were implemented in 2011 in response to the company's announcement that it would begin work in Iran. Belarus announced several months later that it was canceling its plans in Iran, but the sanctions remained in place.

Belarusian President Viktor Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994, has been dubbed "Europe's last dictator" in the West for his relentless crackdown on opposition and free media. But relations with the United States and the European Union have warmed recently as Minsk played host to crucial Ukrainian peace talks.