Belarusian opposition leader brings her country's fight for democracy to the U.S.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leader of Belarus' opposition, is placing her home country back into the orbit of Washington's attention. Tsikhanouskaya met with President Biden on Wednesday, telling CBS News that the meeting sent a clear message to President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus and Russian President Vladimir Putin about U.S. support for a democratic and independent Belarus.
"It sent the message to the regime that there will not be so-called 'normalization' until all innocent people are released and new elections are conducted," she said.
During her meeting with the president, Tsikhanouskaya asked the Biden administration to place additional sanctions on Belarus in an effort to isolate Lukashenko's regime. In an interview with The Associated Press, she noted a focus on potash, oil, wood and steel sectors would be particularly effective.
The U.S., U.K. and Canada have already imposed sanctions on Belarus after the forced landing of a commercial Ryanair flight and subsequent politically motivated arrest of journalist Raman Pratasevich. But Lukashenko's regime continues to crack down on anyone it deems a dissident.
In a country of less than 9.5 million, over 35,000 people have been "arbitrarily detained" since August, according to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Last week, the regime conducted a coordinated raid against 46 NGOS in an effort to dissolve civil society spaces, according to Amnesty International. Lukashenko announced prior to the raids that his regime was conducting a "mopping-up operation" of "bandits and foreign agents."
The targets ranged widely, from environmental organizations to literary groups, and included "all organizations and initiatives that are not under [the Belarusian government's] control," according to Tsikhanouskaya.
Lukashenko, one of Putin's closest allies, announced Friday that he is prepared to invite Russian troops into the country "if necessary."
Tikhanovskaya said she doesn't see this as anything new or more than an attempt to attract attention.
"Perhaps he also wants to demonstrate loyalty to the Kremlin, but we know that they don't trust each other," she said.
The announcement comes as Russia and Belarus get ready to conduct their quadrennial military exercises known as "Zapad 2021" in September.
Last year, Belarus erupted into months of protests after Lukashenko was reelected in what the international community widely regarded as a fraudulent election.
Tsikhanouskaya ran for the presidency in the place of her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, who was arrested prior to the election and refused access to the ballot. She quickly became the face of the opposition against a ruler who has been at the helm of power since 1994.
Fearing being jailed herself if she stayed inher home country, she fled to Lithuania after the election,
Tikhanovskaya does not plan to run for president again. Her intent now is to make sure the world does not forget about her country's quest for democracy.
"I don't intend to compete with other political leaders in future elections," she said. "My goal here is to bring the country to these elections."
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