Stating that the fates of Ukraine and Belarus are “interconnected,” the opposition leader of the latter country has a message for the world: “Weaken the regime and strengthen the people.”
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urged Western countries to impose even tougher sanctions on the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has allied himself with Russian President Vladimir Putin as Russia conducts its bloody invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
Lukashenko “has back-stabbed Ukrainians, but also put in jeopardy the very existence of the Belarusian state,” Tsikhanouskaya told the Ottawa Conference on Security and Defense on Thursday, speaking virtually from a London airport lounge.
“The regime sold Belarus to Russia to keep their own power, and as a result, Belarus is under de facto Russian occupation.”
She called for more Belarusian state banks to be excluded from the SWIFT payment system, which facilitates the transfer of money throughout the world.
“I can tell you that the cause of this nightmare that we are facing, the cause is indifference,” she said. “For too long, the world closed its eyes and let dictators have their way. Now, the dictators come knocking at your door with a gun in hand.”
Tsikhanouskaya was Lukashenko’s main opponent in the disputed 2020 presidential election. She claimed to have won a decisive first-round victory in a race marred by widespread allegations of fraud against Lukashenko’s regime. Canada was among a number of countries that did not recognize the election results, calling them “fraudulent.”
On Tuesday, Canada expanded sanctions on Belarus by freezing the assets of 19 individuals accused of “serious” breaches of “international peace and security” in relation to the war in Ukraine.
The new round of sanctions also froze the assets of two dozen Belarusian companies, including major banks, manufacturers of tractors, an oil refinery, and producers of tobacco and potash.
Tsikhanouskaya said most Belarusians are against the war in Ukraine and have been trying to assist Ukrainians, including through protests and disrupting Russian operations in Belarus. She said Putin has used her country as a “launching pad” for his war in Ukraine, a war she believes Ukraine will win.
“It’s crucial to distinguish between (Lukashenko) and the regime responsible for the war, and the society of Belarus that’s helping Ukrainians,” she said. “We also know that Belarusians don’t want their country to become a pariah state following the Kremlin’s madness. Belarusians want peace, not war.”
She called for support measures for Belarusians mirroring those given to Ukrainians by other countries, including humanitarian and visa support, scholarships and support for independent media.
And she pressed for diplomatic isolation of the Lukashenko regime, urging more countries and international organizations not to recognize his government. As she previously announced, she said she is putting together a transitional cabinet.
“Soon I will announce the details of this cabinet and we will be seeking the support of Canada for it,” Tsikhanouskaya said. “You can treat it as the government in exile.”
The Russian economy has taken a huge hit from sanctions, and similar measures will cause damage to the Belarusian economy, Tsikhanouskaya said, but the blame lies at the feet of the Russian and Belarusian governments.
“They are responsible for the sanctions, not Western countries, not Canada or America,” she said. “It’s the dictators and they have to answer for their actions.”
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