“I admire the courage of the Ukrainians”

Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, exiled Belarusian rival and winner of the controversial presidential election in August 2020, answered our questions about the current situation amid the Ukrainian conflict.

Paris Match. You met again with Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday. How did this meeting go?
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. I see a person, a politician, who really cares about Belarus and Ukraine. He is ready to help us in any way he can. I briefed him about Belarus, that the regime had acted in a way that would put us at war with Ukraine. But the Belarusian people do not want this war and see the Ukrainians as our neighbors, our friends. We talked about the so-called reforms in Belarus and tomorrow’s referendum on the new constitution proposed by the Lukashenko regime. The current Constitution is poorly constructed, and this reform will strengthen Lukashenko’s power, but the most important and alarming and should worry the West is the transition that allows the adoption of Russian nuclear weapons on our territory. When this Constitution is adopted, it will become a threat to the entire region. Even if all the attention is focused on Ukraine, which is necessary because what is happening there is terrible, we have to think about the future and security. I call for the continuation of the policy of not recognizing the actions of Lukashenko and his regime.
We also talked about the increasing pressure on the Lukashenko regime, especially with economic sanctions, we need to close any remaining loopholes. Lukashenko has made our country aggressive, he has to face the consequences. But we must also provide emergency assistance to the people, the number of political prisoners is increasing day by day. Only international support and solidarity will help us resist.

To read our interviewSvetlana Tikhanovskaya: “The Lukashenko regime underestimated the whole nation”

Alexander Lukashenko allowed Russian troops to pass through Belarus to invade Ukraine. Is this a way to repay Vladimir Putin his support since summer 2020?
Definitely. Lukashenko was able to stay in power after the fraudulent elections only thanks to Putin’s support. Now he’s paying the price for that support. He said that he recognized Crimea as Russian territory and now leases our land for the passage of Russian tanks, refueling of military aircraft, the passage of military equipment through Belarusian airports. State media do not say a word about the war: Lukashenko wants the country to remain stable, he ensures that Belarus does not participate in the war, he wants people to believe that everything is fine. But thanks to the independent media that has fled abroad and has international support, we can show the truth to the Belarusian people.

To read : Russian “attack” repelled in Kiev, Macron says “War will continue”… Update on Ukraine conflict

“The passage of Russian troops through Belarus made Lukashenko a traitor”

You just said that the Belarusian people do not want war. Opposition is also felt among Russians, as evidenced by the demonstrations that led to the arrests. Could this war be the beginning of a major uprising against Putin?
Only a handful of people in Russia want this war and they use a weakened dictator to take advantage of it. I am grateful to all those who demonstrated against the war, to all those who spoke publicly. I think this war is not just about the independence of Ukraine or Belarus: it is a challenge for all European countries, for the whole world. You can’t let a dictator change history. Propaganda in Russia is working hard to convince people that the aggressor was Ukraine and that Russia came only to defend the people. This is absolutely not true and all countries should support Ukraine as much as possible with military, economic, humanitarian aid. Now is not the time to talk about “neutrality”: what future can we have if Ukraine loses this war? I see the courage of the Ukrainian people, I am honored to have such neighbors. But the whole world must show its solidarity. Here in France we live comfortably in a democratic country, we get the impression that it is far away. But if we don’t stop it now, what will happen next?

You believe that Alexander Lukashenko should be prosecuted for “treason”…
For 27 years, Lukashenko was the guarantor of the independence and sovereignty of Belarus. Now we see that the situation has lost control, it is no longer able to defend our country. The passage of troops through our Belarus made him a traitor. We understand the fear in Belarus, the oppression of the regime, but we appeal to those who think about the whole country within this regime, who can influence it, change the situation, not preserve the power of a single person. A person who demonstrates his power through violence can no longer represent our country.

“It’s time to implement the strongest economic sanctions”

Should the solution go through the isolation of Putin and Lukashenko?
It is clear that the democratic world does not have all the means to fight dictators. They just have diplomacy and economic sanctions that sometimes don’t work. Now is the time to impose the strongest economic sanctions that will help dictators carry out their actions. Disconnecting them from SWIFT, stopping cooperation with Russian companies will have a certain effect, but the actions must be joint, strong and urgent: half-measures will not work.

If the international response had been stronger in 2014, when Crimea was illegally annexed, would the situation be different today?
I think at that time, perhaps because there was no war, the world did not realize the threat posed by Russia. But now we see that changing: Politicians, including those who supported the Russian president at the time, are waking up, changing their minds as they see how far dictators are willing to go to retain power.

Are you in contact with the Ukrainian government?
We talked to elected deputies, certain members of the government, until the start of the war. We haven’t met any government members since the fraudulent elections because it was very difficult for them to choose sides. It’s not the time to meet yet, because they have other, much more complex issues to manage. But here, in front of the French Parliament, I sent a message to the Ukrainian government reminding that the Belarusian people do not want war, they only want our regime. We want to help as much as possible, and Belarusians fleeing abroad are ready to help Ukrainians. In the case of Ukraine, the government supports the people. We must fight against our government.

“Volodymyr Zelensky is a great leader, he really supports Ukraine”

What do you think about the reaction of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky?
I admired the courage of the Ukrainians. I’m sure Volodymyr Zelensky is a great leader, he really supports Ukraine. I hope we will be as brave as the Ukrainians. But the situation is different, Ukrainians have lived in democracy in recent years. I sincerely believe that they will win. The fates of Ukraine and Belarus are intertwined. Without independent Ukraine, there will be no independent Belarus.

What is the latest news you have received from your husband and other political prisoners who were recently sentenced to 18 years in prison?
The number of political prisoners is increasing day by day. Before the war started, we focused on the so-called referendum, and now we see that we need to get used to it and switch to war strategy. But we have to worry every day about political prisoners who do not have access to information. I haven’t been in contact with my husband’s lawyer for the past three days, I don’t even know if he knows what’s going on. The situation of political prisoners is more complicated than ordinary criminals, they are tortured every day, the prisoners go on hunger strike, some of them get cancer, they are seriously ill and we should not forget them.

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