Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said Monday her country was under de facto “military occupation” by Russia as she urged the EU to maintain pressure on the regime of leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Moscow has used Belarus as a key launchpad for its war on neighbouring Ukraine and is deploying thousands of troops to its close ally as part of a joint task force.
“I have to say that Belarus is de facto under military occupation,” Tikhanovskaya told AFP after meeting EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
She said that Lukashenko does not “control the presence of Russian troops” or stationing of Moscow’s military equipment in Belarus.
“He just has to agree with everything because he knows that without (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s support, he will not politically survive in Belarus.”
The announcement of the joint deployment last month between Belarus and Russia fuelled fears that Minsk could be gearing up to send its troops into Ukraine just as the Kremlin’s Russian forces have been pushed back.
But Tikhanovskaya insisted Belarusian soldiers would refuse to join Moscow’s war, and “Lukashenko knows this”.
She said that so far the opposition “haven’t seen any signs” that Russian nuclear weapons have been brought to Belarus after Moscow announced in June it would deliver missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Tikhanovskaya lives in exile after fleeing abroad in the face of veteran leader Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown launched when he claimed victory over her at polls in 2020 seen as stolen by the West.
She urged EU ministers not to “overlook” the ongoing repression inside Belarus as attention is focused on Ukraine, and to close loopholes in the bloc’s sanctions aimed at draining Lukashenko’s resources.
“The situation in Belarus is worsening. I have to say the number of political prisoners is increasing, detentions are continuing and people are sentenced to years and years in jail,” she said.
“We are asking the world to be persistent, to be consistent and not to appease dictatorship, and not to forgive and forget what the regime has done and is continuing to do.”