Western countries need to strengthen sanctions against Belarus and put pressure on President Alexander Lukashenko to restore democracy and end the deteriorating repression. Leaders of the opposition Svyatlana Zihanusskaya Tell the Financial Times before visiting the UK.
That visit came from Belarusian athlete Christina Zimanusskaya Seek asylum At the Japanese Olympics, she said that Belarusian officials tried to get her to board the plane and go home against her wishes after she criticized her coach on social media.
Qihanusskaya said that what happened to the Olympian was part of a wider crackdown on athletes in Belarus. After Belarusian athletes accused the Lukashenko regime of political discrimination and imprisonment, the Olympic authorities banned Lukashenko from participating in the Tokyo Olympics and frozen payments to the country’s Olympic Committee.
“Since August, dozens of athletes have been sentenced to jail, fired and forced to flee the country,” she said, adding that any criticism is considered an attack on the government. “No athlete can feel safe-whether in Belarus or abroad.”
Qihanusskaya now hopes to obtain the support of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lift the sanctions exemption. She said she weakened the impact of the sanctions exemption during her visit to London on Tuesday. Prior to this, she had a 15-day visit to the United States, where she met with President Joe Biden.
“We are going to the UK to attract attention… to make up for the loopholes in European sanctions,” she said. Qihanusskaya stated that increasing pressure will only lead the regime to embark on a more repressive path, which “will be longer and have more victims.”
Downing Street declined to comment.
Since the August 2020 poll, about 35,000 people have been arrested in Belarus, including Zihanusskaya’s husband Sergey Tikhanovsky, which is widely considered to be flawed. Tikhanovsky was detained before the election, prompting Zihanusskaya to run for the presidency.
Ukrainian police said on Tuesday that the head of the Belarusian House of Political Refugee Support in Kiev and Belarusian activist Vitali Shkhov was found hanged in the park.
On Ukrainian television, an acquaintance who claimed to be Yuri and fellow Belarusian refugee ruled out the possibility of suicide and pointed out that Shyshov had a broken nose.
“I suspect this is [Belarus] KGB. .. We know they are hunting us,” Yuri said.
The Western powers threatened to increase pressure on Belarus, but so far only gradual steps have been taken. Among the most recent initiatives, the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States, and Canada imposed asset freezes and travel bans on some Belarusians associated with the regime in June as punishment for the forced landing of a Ryanair plane in May. The Belarusian authorities transferred the plane to Minsk on the grounds of a security threat to arrest a dissident and his girlfriend.
The British sanctions also target Belarusian exporters of petroleum products, while the European Union has imposed sectoral sanctions on insurance, tobacco, petroleum products and potash exports, which account for a large part of Belarus’s revenue.
Zihanusskaya said she has fled Belarus since she was threatened with arrest after the controversial presidential election last year, and she is grateful for the broad support of the international community. But she believes that exclusion has greatly weakened the impact of these measures, and urged European powers to tighten existing sectoral sanctions and implement more sanctions.
“Of course, our beloved, our relatives are in poor conditions and humiliated in prison,” she said.
She also hopes that Washington will implement broader sanctions, believing that these measures — if coordinated — will be one of the most powerful ways to put pressure on the Lukashenko regime.
“The level of repression is so great now; the number of political prisoners is increasing every day,” she said. She added that because of the crackdown, she did not call for street demonstrations on August 9, which marked the election of a year.
During his visit to the United States, Qihanusskaya also met with Secretary of State Anthony Brinken, National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan, US Agency for International Development Director Samantha Bauer and other senior members of the Biden administration.
“We discussed it…[how the US] It may be helpful in this fight between autocracy and democracy,” she said, adding that the main message she got from US officials was willingness to “create more pressure on the regime.”
The Biden administration stated in May that it would issue an executive order giving the United States greater sanctions powers in Belarus, but it has not yet imposed sanctions under the order. Sullivan said after meeting with Qihanusskaya that more sanctions will be introduced.
Biden did not mention sanctions, but supported Qihanusskaya’s mission and said in a tweet after the meeting: “The United States and the people of Belarus stand together in pursuit of democracy and universal human rights.”
Qihanusskaya said that Biden also asked her husband at a “passionate and humane” meeting. “I just want to tell him:’Don’t stop believing’,” she said of her husband. “I want him to know that the whole world is with him.”
She also visited United Nations officials in New York, as well as expatriates, academics and business leaders in San Francisco and Los Angeles, some of whom expressed interest in investing in Belarus in the coming years.
“We are in the process of revolution, but we must think about the future,” she said.
Additional reporting by Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London and Roman Olearchyk in Kiev