Svetlana Tikhanovskaia: “A Ukrainian victory would weaken Putin but also Lukashenko”


What is your mood a few days before the trial?
This so-called trial is Lukashenko’s revenge not only against me but against all Belarusians who defended freedom in 2020. This is just a theater where the puppets of the regime play the roles of judge, prosecutor and lawyer. So it won’t change anything for us and it doesn’t matter. On Tuesday, when it opens, I will be at the Davos Forum, where I will focus on my work to bring real justice to Belarus, so that we can have fair trials and not this kind of judicial travesty.

But the regime of Alexander Lukashenko has not managed to stifle all opposition?
No matter how many people are behind bars, that will not stop the opposition against him. Given the level of repression, our work must be done in exile. But the democratic movement is still alive and well. We created the Transitional United Government to function as a temporary executive body and prepare reforms for a democratic Belarus. It is important that the democratic forces remain united in this struggle.

They punish him because they can’t reach me. But I know that it stands strong and that they cannot break it

Have you heard of your husband?
Only through your lawyer. Last year they were put in solitary confinement for several months. They punish him because they can’t reach me. But I know that he is still strong and that they cannot break him. I also know that he wants the fight to continue, not only for his freedom, but also for all political prisoners and the country as a whole.

How many political prisoners are there in the country today?
According to human rights organizations, there are 1,435, including 32 journalists. But there are also those who are detained for political reasons, even if it is not stated in the indictment. We estimate them at 3,000 but their number could be much higher. Prisoners are sometimes released when their sentences expire, but sometimes they are rearrested and face new charges. In detention, they are mistreated and forced to live in inhumane conditions. Right now, it’s total anarchy. And then, right now, there’s an average of seventeen new incarcerations every day, mostly because of the anti-war protests in Ukraine.

Has the regime’s repression increased since the beginning of the Russian invasion?
It has entered a new phase. The vast majority of Belarusians oppose the war and a resistance has developed. This ranges from railway sabotage to surveillance of Russian troop movements, via cyber attacks or the participation of volunteers in Ukraine. The regime reacted to this with further repression. Railroad followers who have attacked railroad tracks where Russian forces were traveling have been shot in the knees or threatened with the death penalty. Some were sentenced to terms ranging from 12 to 15 years in prison.

A free Belarus would be the harshest sanction against Putin

Has the war in Ukraine diverted the attention of the international community and in particular the Europeans from the human rights situation in Belarus?
It is completely understandable that the international community is now focusing on helping Ukraine; our government is also working hard on this. But my mission is to ensure that Belarus is not forgotten. We also believe that the crises in Belarus and Ukraine must be solved together, because in fact they are two sides of the same problem. Changes in Belarus may happen faster than expected. A free Belarus would be the harshest sanction against Putin.

Do you think a new Russian offensive from Belarus is credible?
Every day we see more Russian troops and equipment moving into Belarus. 12,000 Russian soldiers are deployed there. Putin’s goal is mainly to keep Belarus under control, but also to force Ukraine to concentrate significant resources in the north to protect itself from a possible invasion. However, it is not clear that it can take place. What is, however, is that Lukashenko no longer decides the positioning of troops in Belarus. He gave up our sovereignty to preserve his own power.

No more room for maneuver?
He is nothing more than the puppet of the Kremlin. Not only did he allow Russian troops to use our country to attack Ukraine, but he is also trying to destroy our Belarusian identity, everything that distinguishes us as an independent people. People can be arrested just for speaking Belarusian! I would also like to emphasize a point that is often overlooked: in some respects, Russia may be interested in keeping Belarus in this status of a satellite country, even if it is completely dependent on Moscow. Moscow could thus use it to evade sanctions.

Increased repression is a sign of weakness, not strength

Could Lukashenko involve the Belarusian army in this war?
But Lukashenko is already involved in this conflict. Without him it wouldn’t be possible. It is obvious that he is ready to destroy Ukraine, which he considers a threat to his dictatorship. But the Belarusian army does not support the war and does not want to fight against the Ukrainians. Personally, I don’t think he will join this conflict. We are conducting a massive information campaign to prevent this scenario. We feel support at all levels of society.

Is Lukashenko also responsible for the crimes committed in Ukraine?
Sometimes I hear voices saying that he is a victim, that he is under pressure from Putin. It’s not true. It is a kind of game to escape from sanctions and responsibilities. Without him, this war would not be possible. He is responsible for these war crimes and must be tried by an international court. The whole world has seen the horrors of Bucha, Irpin and those other places where civilians were killed by the invaders. We won’t forget it.

What consequences would a Ukrainian victory have for your country?
It will not only weaken Putin, but also Lukashenko, and this will create a window of opportunity for us. I think, moreover, that the war has already weakened them. Increased repression is a sign of weakness, not strength. And then he drove a wedge between Lukashenko and the people he is holding hostage. Look at the people in prison today: many of them were members of the regime until recently. But they decided to give up and paid a high price. The liberation of Belarus does not have to wait for the victory of Ukraine. Changes can occur there much sooner. For this, we need more international support and attention. Free Belarus will be Ukraine’s biggest supporter in the war. When the moment of liberation comes, we will seize it.

Source : Le JDD
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