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Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: 'The fate of Belarus and the fate of Ukraine are intertwined'

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Switzerland, in March 2021
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Switzerland, in March 2021 Copyright Alessandro della Valle/Keystone via AP
Copyright Alessandro della Valle/Keystone via AP
By Heloise Urvoy
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The Belarussian opposition leader will take part in a conference on Central and Eastern Europe's security in Bratislava. She is calling on the EU to maintain sanctions on Belarus and has said the course of the war in Ukraine and her country's fate were linked.

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Belarussian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is set to meet political leaders in Bratislava on Monday, 29 May. 

She intends to deliver a message on the importance of Belarus for the region's security: "A free and independent Belarus is not only for the Belarussian people, it's for the whole region. 

"The fate of Belarus and the fate of Ukraine are intertwined, and Belarus is part of the crisis, but it also might be part of solving the problem.”

Moscow stepped in to help its neighbour in 2020 after it was hit by economic sanctions for repressing pro-democracy protests. President Alexander Lukashenko has been leading the country for close to 30 years. Support for Tsikhanouskaya grew during the 2020 presidential election, which threatened the Belarussian authoritarian leader's status quo. Russian President Vladimir Putin helped him secure his position and has since helped the economy of the sanction-hit country stay afloat.

When Russia invaded Ukraine a few years later, Belarus returned the favour: "The invasion of Ukraine would not have been possible without Belarus' help," according to Pavel Slunkin, a policy analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

“The Russian troops entered in trying to capture Kyiv from the territory of Belarus. They have been shelling Ukrainian cities in the north of the country from Belarussian territory, they have been using Belarussian industry facilities for producing weaponry for Russia. They have been using Belarussian infrastructures, like railway infrastructures, for supply.”

Some reports suggest the EU is considering easing sanctions on exports of Belarussian potash, a fertiliser that makes up a large share of the country’s revenues.

 "It would be a massive help to Russia, but it would be an even more massive help to Lukashenko," Slunkin told Euronews. 

"Potash fertiliser is one of the main exported goods of the regime, that adds billions of dollars per year to the Belarussian budget. Obviously, it would help a lot to earn money, that Lukashenko can then allocate to his special services, to his police that represses people -and also for keeping their macroeconomic stability."

Tsikhanouskaya has called on the European Union to maintain sanctions on potash and to consider additional ones. No new sanctions have been imposed on Belarus for more than a year. 

The Belarussian opposition politician has also insisted that all available legal tools must be used to help restore democracy.

“The International Criminal Court must issue the arrest warrant on Lukashenko, same as it was done with Putin," she said.

"Also the European Union must consider sanctions against Lukashenko's regime now. 

"I understand that the regime is trying to hide his crimes. But we should remind every moment, at every place that he is Putin's accomplice, that he's a criminal, and he has to bear the full responsibility for this."

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