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“Belarus is a ‘co-aggressor'”

Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, leader of the Belarusian opposition in exile, during her visit to Spain in December 2020. / EFE

The Sakharov Prize winner believes that her country has not joined the invasion of Ukraine because the military does not approve of the military operation

MINOR DARIO Correspondent in Rome

The fate of Belarus is closely linked to that of Ukraine. Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, leader of the Belarusian democratic opposition exiled in Lithuania after the fraudulent elections of August 2020, won by the dictator Alexander Lukashenko with 80% of the votes, considers that the Russian invasion of Ukraine can open “an opportunity to free ourselves from the regime”. In a videoconference interview with this newspaper, Tijanóvskaya, awarded in 2020 with the Sakharov prize of the European Parliament along with the rest of the Belarusian opposition, considers that her country has not joined the invasion of Ukraine because the military does not approve the military operation . She even does not rule out that there is a coup by the Army itself against Lukashenko.

–Why has Belarus not joined the invasion? Do you think that Vladimir Putin has not asked Lukashenko or has he refused?

-Belarus has been involved in the war since the first day, having allowed Russian troops to enter our territory. Belarus is a ‘co-aggressor’. Two weeks ago it was thought that Lukashenko was going to order his soldiers to join, but something changed. We know that there is broad opposition among the military. They do not understand why they fight against our Ukrainian brothers, of whom we have always been companions, friends and brothers. Lukashenko may have wanted the Belarusian soldiers to participate in order to pay off the debt he owes to Putin following their support in the rigged 2020 election.

“Doesn’t he have as much power then as one might think?”

–Lukashenko is an illegitimate president. He has not been chosen by the people, although through pressure and threats he remains. But the Army is a great power in itself and he was not sure that he would follow if he embarked on the invasion of Ukraine, which could have put him in a difficult position.

–What impact does the war have on the population of Belarus?

-Most people are against it. We are brothers of the Ukrainians and we do not understand it. A recent Chatham House report says that only 3% support Russia in this conflict. Even Lukashenko’s supporters reject the invasion. Many Belarusians have crossed into Ukraine to fight the invasions. A battalion has even been created in the Ukrainian Army. Democrats are working like partisans. In addition to those fighting on the ground, cyberattacks have been launched to hinder the movement of Russian troops. Rail links with Ukraine have also been sabotaged to slow down the invasion.

‘Very weak position’

– How will the war affect Lukashenko’s position?

-It is evident that his position is very weak. He has even lost control of the territory, which is full of Russian military and I doubt he knows how to send them back if the Kremlin doesn’t want him. Lukashenko does not have the support of the population or the Army, nor does he have communication with Western countries. His only chance is to see how the war goes and where he wants to be at the end. When the invasion started he was with Putin, but as it became clear that the Ukrainians were fighting, he began to say that he was for peace. But he did not say anything about the Russians bombing hospitals from our territory.

– How can the relationship between Putin and Lukashenko develop?

-It has been changing according to the needs of each one. It will be necessary to see how the situation in Ukraine is resolved and if Putin understands that he needs to change Lukashenko. It is somewhat possible, since Russian troops are already in Belarus.

– Do new scenarios open up for your country with the war?

–The Belarusians who fight alongside the Ukrainians when they return can free us from the regime. They can give a boost to our revolution, which until now has been peaceful and democratic. Who knows if the Army will listen to these volunteers and join the fight to have free elections.

western stance

The EU must not think of a new ‘iron curtain’, but rather show that democracy can be defended»

–Do you think a military coup is possible?

–It could be one of the scenarios, who knows. Our task is to create multiple pressure points on the regime so that it understands that the people do not give in and are prepared to fight for free elections and for the release of all political prisoners. I am convinced that Ukraine will emerge victorious from this war, which will help to show Lukashenko’s illegitimacy. The fate of Belarus is tied to that of Ukraine.

– Do you have the suitcase ready to return to Belarus?

–I am always prepared to return to Belarus, even without a suitcase.

– What do you ask of Western countries?

-That in the midst of this horrible war do not forget Belarus. It is important to support the civil society of my country in its fight against the dictatorship, and to maintain and enforce the sanctions against Lukashenko. The EU cannot be nice to dictators or think of a new ‘iron curtain’, but show that democracy can defend itself in countries that want to be democratic, such as Ukraine and Belarus.

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