Opposition leader of Belarus warns of Russian threat: ‘We know dictatorship’ – National

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The exiled leader of the opposition to Belarus’ authoritarian government says her country’s fight for democracy is also a fight for its sovereignty, as Russia continues to draw Belarus into its war against Ukraine.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania in 2020 after President Alexander Lukashenko cracked down on protests against his disputed election win, says Lukashenko’s confirmation last week that “several dozen” Russian nuclear weapons have been placed in Belarus is another example of Russia’s subjugation, which has affected “all aspects of Belarusian life.”

“For us it is a question of the sovereignty of Belarus,” she told Mercedes Stephenson in an interview broadcast on Sunday. The Western Bloc.

“If these brutal dictators (Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin) launch these nuclear weapons, the counter-attack on Belarus will take place. … This is a crime.”

Click to play video: ''Apocalypse': Lukashenko warns Russian nuclear weapons deployed in'

‘Apocalypse’: Lukashenko warns of Russian nuclear weapons deployed in country

Lukashenko and Putin have strengthened their alliance in the wake of Ukraine’s massive invasion of Ukraine in 2022, helping each other avoid economic sanctions imposed by NATO and other allies. Belarus has also hosted Russian troops and facilitated their access to Ukrainian territory, although Belarus has not involved its own forces in the conflict.

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Belarusian and Russian state media on Thursday quoted Lukashenko telling the Belarusian People’s Congress that internal and external threats from the Belarusian opposition and NATO – which he presented without evidence – justified hosting Russian nuclear weapons as part of a new national security and military doctrine. Putin and Lukashenko reached an agreement for the first time last year on the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus.

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Tsikhanouskaya said the closer relationship between Lukashenko and Putin paints a false portrait of Belarus as a Russian proxy or “appendix,” which she said the majority of the Belarusian population does not support.

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“We are a European nation that wants to return to its European roots, that wants to be part of the European family of countries,” she said. “But there is a dictator who is dragging us back to the past of the Soviet Union.”

Political prisoners isolated

Since fleeing the country, Tsikhanouskaya has declared herself leader of democratic Belarus and campaigned for free and fair elections in the country. Last year, Tsikhanouskaya was tried in absentia on charges including attempting to overthrow the government and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

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Tsikhanouskaya challenged Lukashenko in the 2020 elections after her husband, activist Syarhei Tsikhanouski, was arrested shortly after announcing his candidacy. He has been incarcerated since then and was later sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Click to play video: 'Belarusian opposition leader says new elections should be held before new constitution'

The Belarusian opposition leader says new elections must be held before the new constitution

Tsikhanouskaya says she has not heard from her husband, who is also the father of their two children, or about his condition in the past year. She says this isolation is part of a broader torture strategy by the Lukashenko regime.

“It is a way to convince our political prisoners that they are forgotten,” she said.

She said her children still ask about their father “every day” and why they don’t receive letters from him.

“(They ask me:) ‘What happened? Is he dead? ” she said. “That is the most painful thing: the uncertainty.”

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Her account mirrors that of the families of other opposition figures who have also not heard from their loved ones for more than a year. There is also the country’s human rights organization Viasna said last week it had identified itself at least 93 inmates suffering from cancer, heart disease and other conditions are neglected or mistreated behind bars.

More than 35,000 people were arrested during the 2020 crackdown on dissent, while other opposition figures fled the country. Viasna says more than 1,400 political prisoners are now behind bars.

Click to play video: 'Belarus sentences Nobel Prize winner Ales Bialiastski to 10 years in prison'

Belarus sentences Nobel Prize winner Ales Bialiastski to 10 years in prison

Tsikhanouskaya said the February death of prominent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny while in custody had underscored the danger her husband and other political prisoners face in Belarus and around the world. Whether Navalny’s death serves as a “green light for dictators,” she says, depends on how the democratic world responds.

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“If the response is not decisive and strong enough, it will give all dictators the opportunity to kill their opponents in prison without any consequences,” she said.

She said countries should ensure they coordinate and synchronize their sanctions against Moscow and Minsk in response to the deaths of both Ukraine and Navalny, to ensure they cannot buy and sell sanctioned material to each other – a loophole which is exploited by other allies such as North Korea as well.

Tsikhanouskaya added that democracies should not hesitate in their support for Ukraine as the country fights to survive Russia’s invasion, noting that she can speak from experience about the threat posed by authoritarians like Putin.

“We know the dictatorship,” she said. “If we allow the beast to gain the upper hand in one country, they will not stop there. They will further challenge the democratic world. And believe me, the next door the enemy will knock on will be your doors.

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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