Belarus’ Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya Meets With Biden to Support Pro-Democracy Movement

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By Quentin Choy

July 31, 2021

After decades of repressive rule in Belarus, it seems that democracy finally has a fleeting chance.

Upon losing the presidential election to Alexander Lukashenko in 2020, large-scale protests swept Belarus in support for democracy and opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya .

Tsikhanouskaya traveled to the United States to meet with President Joe Biden in hopes that America will support her pro-democracy movement and impose more targeted sanctions against Lukashenko, Europe’s last dictator.

Who is Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya?

Tsikhanouskaya ran against Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus’ 2020 presidential election. Much of her campaign sought to democratize Belarus and to free political prisoners held by the Lukashenko regime.

“I came to the United States with only one wish: that my beloved Belarus become free. And I’m sure it will happen. I want you to remember that when you look into my eyes, you are looking into the eyes of every political prisoner, every activist, volunteer, athlete or culture figure, who is brave enough to fight for democracy in Belarus.”

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya
Tsikhanouskaya with campaign supporters.

She lives outside of Belarus now, afraid of what Lukashenko’s repressive, authoritarian regime might do to her and her pro-democracy supporters.

Following the 2020 election in which Tsikhanouskaya lost to Lukashenko, many voters believed that the election had been rigged by the Lukshenko regime.

While the video is older from 2017, this clip shows what people in Belarus live like under Lukashenko’s regime.

For some, Tsikhanouskaya draws comparisons to Juan Guaido, the opposition leader in Venezuela under Nicolas Maduro. Representing the opposition and being recognized by some as the “democratic leader of Belarus,” Tsikhanouskaya has created a name for herself in global politics.

However, when asked about comparisons to Guaido, Tsikhanouskaya denied that she is trying to take power in Belarus.

“I am not trying to take power in Belarus. I simply want that we — Belarusians — get back our right to choose our president. As you know, I am not going to take part in a new election. I am not going to build a political career. I am simply doing my duty.”

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya
Juan Guaido.

Ryanair Flight 4978

Belarus and its authoritarianism under Lukashenko catapulted to the headlines following the forced landing of Ryanair Flight 4978 in May 2021.

The flight left Athens and was intercepted by a Belarusian fighter jet before it was able to land in Vilnius, Lithuania.

While Ryanair Flight 4978 was in midair, air traffic controllers in Belarus alerted pilots of a “potential security threat on board” and ordered the plane to land in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

After the forced landing, 26-year-old journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega were arrested.

Belarusian police arrested Roman Protasevich after the forced landing of Ryanair Flight 4978.

Many believe that the landing of the plane was all a ploy by Lukashenko to arrest one of the top voices of opposition against him.

Tsikhanouskaya Meets the President

Following Protasevich’s arrest, many western nations condemned the Lukashenko regime and their anti-democratic practices.

The United States and the European Union placed sanctions on Belarus, hoping to bring about changes from Lukashenko.

However, Lukashenko sought a closer alliance with Putin’s Russia, a close ally.

Putin and Lukashenko playing hockey in 2014.

Tsikhanouskaya is in the United States and has met with President Joe Biden, hoping to garner support for Belarus’ pro-democracy movement, of which she is the leader.

“I saw a person who is not indifferent. He is not indifferent to what is happening in Belarus.”

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya

Some in the U.S. House of Representatives formed a group called the “Friends of Belarus” caucus, aimed at calling attention to the lack of freedom in Belarus.

She also met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Tsikhanouskaya urged the U.S. to place tougher sanctions on Belarus, particularly on the industries that fund the Lukashenko regime such as the fertilizer industry, Belarus’ second-largest industry.

History professor Michael Kimmage believes that sanctions are helpful, but that other solutions exist in prying Belarus from Lukashenko’s iron fist.

One such solution is making it easier for Belarusians to visit the European Union to experience the freedoms of political liberty.

“The United States and the European Union should invest more in people than in transformative outcomes which it cannot deliver. Policies that make it easier for Belarusians to travel and study in the European Union should be encouraged. Gradual changes in political sensibility, whereby the habits of political liberty are internalized, should be advanced.”

Michael Kimmage, professor of history at the Catholic University of America
Minsk, Belarus.

Lukashenko Hits Back

Alexander Lukashenko knows all about Tsikhanouskaya’s diplomatic efforts to gain support for democracy in Belarus. As Europe’s last dictator, Lukashenko refuses to back down without a fight.

While he says that he can muster forces of around 500,000 troops in a short time, Lukashenko also declared that he won’t hesitate to invite Russian troops to Belarus.

“There is no need for that now. We have quite a strong, united and compact armed force…. If it is not enough, Russian armed forces will be introduced…. If it is necessary, we will not hesitate.”

Alexander Lukashenko
Putin and Lukashenko.

Lukashenko also plans on making life harder for the European Union, in response for sanctioning him. Surges of migrants from Iraq are travelling through Belarus to Lithuania’s border.

The Lithuanian government believes that Lukashenko and Belarusian border guards are intentionally inviting migrants through Belarus to reach the European Union through Lithuania’s borders.

In May, Lukashenko spoke furiously after being sanctioned by the European Union, saying “we stopped drugs and migrants. Now you will eat them and catch them yourselves.”

Belarus-Lithuania border.

Conclusion

While I prefer Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya over Alexander Lukashenko as leader of Belarus, Lukashenko is currently the one in power. He has the strength of the Belarusian military and the backing of Putin’s Russia.

I genuinely believe that Tsikhanouskaya’s pro-democracy movement can succeed with support from America and the European Union. The fact that she has said that she doesn’t seek a political career legitimizes the movement and her diplomatic actions.

Anti-Lukashenko protests in 2020.

I think that continued sanctions can help force Lukashenko’s hand and that an opening up to the E.U. would be of great assistance in bringing democracy to Europe’s last dictatorship.

Sources

  1. What Should the Democracies of the World Do About Lukashenko’s Belarus?, WeTheCommoners
  2. Lithuanian Embassy, US politicians launch ‘Friends of Belarus’ caucus, The Washington Diplomat
  3. Belarus’s Beleaguered Opposition Seeks U.S. Support. What Are The Options?, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty
  4. Biden backs embattled democracy movement in Belarus, Associated Press
  5. Lukashenko says won’t hesitate to invite Russian troops to Belarus, Daily Sabah
  6. Lukashenko invites Biden and Putin to Belarus to discuss ‘problems’, Euronews
  7. Lithuania Says Lukashenka Is Flooding Baltic State’s Border With Migrants, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty
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11 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Sorry I’m late to the party! Excellent and informative post, Quentin! Some of this I knew, but much I wasn’t aware of and it has given me food for thought. Thank you, my friend!

      1. Sorry I haven’t been around much the past few days … needed some ‘down time’, y’know? 3-4 posts a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year … I get tired and out of sorts sometimes. I will catch up on your posts in the next day or two, though … I promise!

  2. Absolutely I can sympathize. And it shows a deep and abiding respect you have for the lives of other citizens serving in uniform. This is commendable. And this is why we owe the best possible intel, equipment, training, and the lowest possible risks to our military. They have a shit job and do it incredibly well considering very often political goals are impossible to obtain by the constraints in which they must operate militarily.

    It is for this reason that the political aspect is so important and needs to be better understood by all citizens.

    We live in a hostile world. But we grow up swimming in the waters of liberal democracy and presume this is the way of the world when it most definitely is not. It is complicated and filled with competing and often incompatible ideas attached to power and if we want to keep our values intact – the values of a liberal democracy that holds the individual in legal respect (and all the rights and freedoms that flow from those) – we have to do a better understanding the world as it is and how best to interact with it to try to make it into a world it could become. The active part each of us plays is through voting and so an informed electorate appoints informed representatives and this is where we are doing such a miserable job. We elect people to positions of very high authority who misuse their public authority, who misuse the military, who confuse personal ambition with public ambition, who make ill-informed decisions and cost people their lives. It’s so easy to destroy and so difficult to build. And we see this action all the time. We have to do better, and so it falls on the next generation of academics and teachers and parents to do their jobs better and help educate those who will either take up the mantle or fail to do their duty.

    But the alternative to all these problems isn’t to fool ourselves and take our bat and ball and go home and think all will be well; we will be followed to our doorsteps by the hyenas that have risen to power elsewhere baying and braying that we are weak, that we deserve defeat, that we have nothing meaningful and important to offer the world, that we are no better than the worst that history has produced, and so on. All of that is a lie. And if you talk to people around the world, listen to what they say the US represents to them and their hope, they have a much clearer understanding of just how vital is the US and the West to be militarily strong, to be the last best hope for humanity as they struggle under various authoritarian and corrupt regimes just to survive. In spite of glaring faults, the liberal democracy model led by the US is that shining city on the hill to them. That’s a huge resource.

    So it’s not our foundations that are rotten but those who give up on them – those who decide on behalf of all future generations that it’s a lost cause to try to make “a more perfect union” because we have not yet achieved perfection, those who decide because of shortcomings today liberal democracy of tomorrow is a failed experiment, those who are elected to public authority today see their popularity dependent on helping to undermine and dismantle the very institutions that are responsible for protecting these values in law beyond tomorrow. And that starts with the military. It’s the military that takes the oath to the Constitution and the military that enforces its defense against enemies foreign AND domestic.

    There is a lot wrong today, make no mistake, not least of which is foreign military entanglements that cannot be won by military stalemates within the confines of political machinations for peace-at-all-costs and few hundred billion US public dollars spent on behalf of ‘reconstruction’. That doesn’t work towards solving problems or creating lasting solutions like peace and elevation of human rights in law: it results in a fading Western civilization and a series of ignoble political defeats internationally in the name of securing domestic political wins abetted by an illiterate and naïve electorate.

    Military conflict by the West should be undertaken either as enforced separation (like peace-keeping) or unconditional surrender if the US itself goes to war, meaning everyone knows at the outset that losing a war with the US means the complete dismantling of a country’s economy, infrastructure, institutions, and social norms and the forced implementation of a liberal democratic replacement. This is how Europe and Japan were ‘reconstructed’. It works. That would empower the strength of pre-war diplomacy, economic ties, and military alliances with the US into the future. Against that liberal democratic trifecta, despotic Russia and totalitarian China and theocratic Iran would face a harsher global opinion for their own transgressions against these values we say we hold in the highest esteem. And that would make for a much better, more cooperative world for the people of all the countries who wish to swim in the same liberal waters and help make such regimes fewer and less powerful.

    1. tildeb,

      Thank you for this genuinely enlightening and thoughtful comment. It gives me a lot to think about, and I’m glad you can understand where I’m coming from.

      Thanks for always challenging me and keeping me in check!

      Quentin

  3. The blurring of the role is real politiks in action. It’s where Great Powers meet and vie for power. There is never, ever, a vacuum anywhere on the globe. By advocating for withdrawal from this central region, you are in fact advocating for either China or Russia to extend their power and take over the diplomatic arena because one of them will. And they will back it up with military and economic power. Any hope for human rights to be respected in law and enforced by law evaporates. What you are suggesting amounts to a death sentence for many and a loss of dignity of personhood for all.

    I hate to be so harsh but such a position of advocating for withdrawing suzerain control while assuming political ties can be extended – as if political alliances without military guarantees of protection is a reasonable alternative – is atrociously and tragically naïve. The real world does not operate this way.

    1. tildeb,

      I’ll give this some more thought. I just have a hard time with the loss of American lives trying to defend a region so far away with little progress being made.

      I hope you can understand where I’m coming from.

      Quentin

  4. Notice that it is towards the US that suppressed people look for aid. That tells you something important about the US that those closer to it constantly fail to see or even understand.

    1. tildeb,

      In this instance, the role of the U.S. as an advocate for democracy and freedom is clear.

      What we’ve talked about in some other posts particularly with Iran and Iraq is the blurring of the role once geopolitics and military intervention become involved.

      Diplomatically, the United States can achieve a lot as well.

      Quentin

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