Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the exiled Belarusian opposition leader widely believed to have won the country’s 2020 presidential election, has called for EU sanctions on the regime of Alexander Lukashenko to be strengthened.
In an interview with the New Statesman, Tikhanovskaya, who lives in exile in Lithuania, said that she worried the migrant crisis at Belarus’s borders with Lithuania and Poland was drawing attention away from the effects of Lukashenko’s rule on Belarusians.
“I think that much more could be done and I hope that stronger sanctions will be imposed on the Lukashenko regime,” Tikhanovskaya said. “I understand that the fifth package [of EU sanctions] that is going to be imposed will be only about the migrant crisis. But I have to say that the migrant crisis cannot be discussed in separation from the political crisis [within Belarus].
“We are asking for stronger sanctions that do not take into consideration only the migration crisis, but also that there are millions of people suffering because of this dictatorship,” Tikhanovskaya said.
The Estonian foreign minister, Eva-Maria Liimets, has said that Lukashenko suggested he could end the migrant crisis in return for EU countries lifting sanctions on his regime and recognising him, rather than Tikhanovskaya, as the legitimate president of Belarus.
For Tikhanovskaya, this suggestion is a non-starter. “You can’t recognise Lukashenko; you can’t talk to him… Western countries are strong enough not to allow a dictator to blackmail them.”
She added that the continuation of the Lukashenko regime is the root cause of the various crises Belarus has experienced over the past year, from the crackdown on the opposition that forced Tikhanovskaya to flee the country, to the grounding of a Ryanair flight and subsequent arrest of the blogger Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend.
“If only the migration crisis is solved, the regime will soon invent another means to pressure and blackmail the EU,” Tikhanovskaya said.