WASHINGTON (AP) – The main besieged opposition leader in Belarus has sought and apparently won US support for increasing pressure on the country’s authoritarian leader.
In meetings with senior US officials, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said she had called on the Biden administration to take “active and non-symbolic” measures in response to the massive crackdown on Belarusian dissidents by President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.
In response, the White House said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan pledged to hold the government accountable for its actions to quell the massive protests against the contested election last year, including through the imposition of new sanctions against the former Soviet republic.
“We will discuss possible international efforts to isolate the regime politically and economically, to make it toxic and costly, including for Russia,” Tsikhanouskaya told reporters. “We know and understand that only Belarusians themselves can bring about democratic changes, but we hope for active and not symbolic American participation. “
Tsikhanouskaya was Lukashenko’s main challenger in the August 2020 elections and was forced to leave the country after polls that the opposition and the West saw as rigged. She was in Washington for meetings with senior administration officials and lawmakers.
His visit came as Belarusian authorities continued a major crackdown on opponents of Lukashenko. Dozens of independent media have been raided and journalists arrested as well as civic leaders and human rights groups, prompting convictions from President Joe Biden and others.
“President Biden says the world is struggling between autocracy and democracy, so the front line of the struggle is in Belarus right now,” Tsikhanouskaya said. “As a champion of democracy, the United States can get help to get things done.”
His message, delivered Monday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Tuesday to Sullivan, was well received.
“Mr. Sullivan expressed American support for the Belarusian people and respect for the courage and determination of the opposition, including Ms. Tsikhanouskaya, in the struggle for democracy and human rights,” the House said. Blanche in a statement. “The United States, along with its partners and allies, will continue to hold the Lukashenko regime accountable for its actions, including through the imposition of sanctions.”
Months of protests rocked Belarus after Lukashenko was elected in August 2020 for a sixth term in a vote that the opposition and the West denounced as gravely flawed.
Belarusian authorities responded to opposition protests with massive repression, including police beating thousands of protesters and arresting more than 35,000 people. Opposition figures have been jailed or forced to leave the country, while independent media have had their offices searched and their journalists arrested.
The West has responded to the crackdown by imposing sanctions on Belarus. The European Union and the United States tightened restrictions after Belarus in May hijacked an airliner to Minsk to arrest a dissident journalist. The government of neighboring Lithuania has accused Belarusian authorities of organizing a flow of migrants from the Middle East and Africa in retaliation.