Ukraine: Tanks enter country via Belarus border
Ms Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after a disputed election that sparked huge protests against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally to Mr Putin, has claimed she is “taking on the responsibility” of Belarus in face of the crisis in Eastern Europe.
She wrote on Twitter on Thursday: “In my today’s statement, I announced that based on the power given to me by Belarusians in the 2020 presidential election, I’m taking on the responsibility to represent the Republic of Belarus & its people, to stand up for the independence & national interests of my country.”
Her message followed an “emergency press conference on the participation of Lukashenka’s regime and the involvement of Belarus in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine”, held at the Lithuanian Embassy in France.
The 39-year-old, a former English teacher, heavily opposes her nation’s friendly ties with Moscow, which the Kremlin has made use of to conduct military drills in Belarus.
Only last weekend, Mr Lukashenko and Mr Putin sat next to one another observing launches of missiles from the large screens in the Moscow headquarters of the Russian Defence Ministry.
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Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, leader of the Belarusian opposition, is standing up to Vladimir Putin
Ms Tsikhanouskaya has also openly called for harder sanctions on Minsk as Mr Lukashenko, 67, gripped to power after an election widely condemned as rigged in his favour, saying: “We ask the international community to impose the strongest sanctions against Lukashenko and the Belarus regime as soon as possible.”
Mr Lukashenko claims he received 80 percent of the vote.
His stance on the Kremlin’s attack on Kiev is hardly surprising.
After Mr Putin announced the recognition of breakaway territories Donetsk and Luhansk as independent entities and ordered troops into the two regions on Monday, Minsk said it “respected and understood” Moscow’s decision.
Ms Tsikhanouskaya has called for sanctions on Russia AND Belarus
Belarus, with a population of 9.4 million, borders NATO members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Ukraine to the south.
Following Russia’s “full-scale” invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, those watching war unfold will be watching allies’ and enemies’ reactions to the conflict.
That of Belarus added fuel to the fire caused by Mr Putin’s and Mr Lukashenko’s already tight relations as the Belarusian president said his troops could take part in Moscow’s military operation against Kiev “if necessary”.
According to state media Belta, Mr Putin spoke to Mr Lukashenko shortly after the Kremlin’s assault by land, air and sea began.
During their conversation, the two agreed Belarus would consider what kind of modern military equipment was needed and would discuss bolstering the country’s west.
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President Lukashenko, who is accused of rigging the 2020 election, shares close ties with Mr Putin
Mr Lukashenko was quoted as saying: “He [Mr Putin] gave me a detailed introduction to the situation and most importantly, to the development of the situation.”
On Sunday, defence minister Viktor Khrenin announced that Minsk’s joint military exercises with Moscow would be prolonged, and satellite imagery from US company Maxar Technologies showed a further build-up of equipment in southern Belarus.
At this point, fears of further Russian incursion on Ukraine from Belarus rose.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, called on Minsk “to abide by its international obligations”, condemning “the involvement of Belarus in this aggression against Ukraine”.
He added: “With a non-transparent deployment of Russian forces, Belarus is losing its nuclear neutrality. It is in the process of satellisation with respect to Russia.”
Ms Tsikhanouskaya is now not only determined to demand sanctions against both Lukashenko and Russia.
She said on Wednesday: “If Russia or Belarus doesn’t respond to the sanction regime, it means that it’s not enough.
“When Lukashenko understands that all his actions will have serious consequences, you know he will think twice to support (the) Kremlin … to continue violence and terror in our country. So, we need [a] stronger answer from all the democratic world.”
Speaking of the EU’s punishment on Minsk for “continued human rights abuses and the instrumentalization of migrants”, she told CNBC: “I know that the sixth package of sanctions is being prepared.
“And I hope that all the loopholes will be closed, especially if military troops, Russian troops will not leave our country.”