Belarus' first president Stanislav Shushkevich dies aged 87Comments
The first president of Belarus, Stanislav Shushkevich, has died at the age of 87, his wife has told the media.
Shushkevich led the country to independence during the breakup of the former Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991 and served as president until 1994.
He is perhaps best known for informing former USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev about the end of the Soviet empire, forcing the latter to resign.
On 8 December 1991, Shushkevich formally signed a treaty to dissolve the USSR alongside the presidents of Russia and Ukraine -- Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk.
"The USSR as a geopolitical reality, and as a subject of international law, has ceased to exist," they said in a joint statement.
Shushkevich was later dismissed as president in 1994 after his opponent Alexander Lukashenko published a report accusing senior Belarusian officials of corruption.
Lukashenko -- Belarus' current president -- was the only member of the country's parliament who refused to vote for dissolution agreements in December 1991.
Shushkevich was then defeated by his authoritarian rival in the 1994 presidential election.
He went on to lead a small social-democratic opposition party until 2018, without ever playing a central role in his country's political life
During a protest movement in 2011, he was arrested several times and said in 2012 that the Belarusian regime had forbidden him to leave the country.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Shushkevich also criticised Lukashenko for allowing Moscow to use Belarus as a staging ground for amassing troops and launching the war.
Lukashenko has continued to carry out a mass crackdown in Belarus, imprisoning opponents or forcing many into exile abroad.
According to several media reports, the former president died after being severely weakened by COVID-19.
"We hope he will have a state funeral, but no one has contacted us," Shushkevich's widow Irina told AFP on Tuesday.
"Stanislav left a last will and testament in the event of his death, but I'm not going to make it public for the moment. I am holding on, with my son and daughter by my side," she added.
"The passing of Stanislav Shushkevich is a big loss for the Belarusian people and the democratic world," said current opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
"The first leader of independent Belarus will be remembered for his role in the dissolution of the Soviet Union."
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte also said that Shuskevich's signature on the declaration that dissolved the USSR "will live in history, his memory, in our hearts.”