Belarus opposition leader asks US for targeted sanctions

·3-min read

The exiled leader of the Belarusian opposition said Tuesday that she asked the United States for tighter sanctions on some companies, hoping to force them away from veteran strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who says she easily won last year's election in which Lukashenko said he secured a sixth term, is on a visit to Washington as President Joe Biden's administration vows to step up pressure on the pro-Moscow Belarusian leader.

In a meeting Monday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Tikhanovskaya said she presented a list of companies on which she hopes the United States can impose further sanctions.

"We understand that only Belarusians themselves can bring the country to democratic changes, but we hope for American active and non-symbolic participation," Tikhanovskaya told a roundtable of the State Department Correspondents' Association.

"President Biden says that the world is struggling between autocracy and democracy. So the frontline of this struggle is in Belarus at the moment. As a champion of democracy, the USA can help get things done," she said.

Tikhanovskaya said that she hoped for further sanctions against state-controlled companies in the areas of potash, oil, wood and steel.

Businesses will be forced to "understand that Lukashenko is over" and that "they have to choose to join a new, transparent country."

She also called for an end to loopholes in EU sanctions that she said allowed existing contracts with international companies to go ahead.

"Most of the international enterprises are afraid of USA sanctions first of all and even the threat of new sanctions -- new European sanctions or USA sanctions -- can influence the behavior of Lukashenko," she said.

"He is becoming more cruel now and he is escalating violence but it only shows his weakness."

- Sanctions 'powerful tool' -

Tikhanovskaya also met Tuesday with Biden's national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, as well as members of Congress.

"The United States, together with partners and allies, will continue to hold the Lukashenko regime accountable for its actions, including through the imposition of sanctions," the White House said after the talks with Sullivan.

Sullivan reiterated a demand for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus, and "a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue with the leaders of the democratic opposition" and others that leads to a "free and fair" presidential vote.

Earlier, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Blinken had a "very good discussion" with Tikhanovskaya but declined to go into detail on any talk of new sanctions.

Tikhanovskaya, previously a stay-at-home mother, ran in place of her husband who was detained before the election. She fled to Lithuania for safety as security forces crack down on protests.

In May, a commercial flight from Athens to Lithuania was forced to land in Belarus on the pretext of security, with authorities arresting a Belarusian dissident journalist onboard, Roman Protasevich, and his girlfriend.

The European Union responded by banning flights over Belarusian airspace, a step that Tikhanovskaya hailed as powerful.

"It's difficult to explain to people from democratic countries that I'm not leading an opposition movement, because we are the majority," she said.

"Even if Tikhanovskaya disappears one day for I don't know what reasons, this uprising, this movement, we will continue."

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