The U.S. ambassador to Belarus has said that developments there in the year since a disputed presidential election spawned a popular democratic movement were "an incredibly momentous event in Belarus" driven by the desire of Belarusians “to have a voice in defining their future.”
In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL’s Belarus Service published on August 7, Ambassador Julie Fisher stressed that the United States continues to call for "an inclusive dialogue" inside Belarus that "leads to a new election" under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) "after the unconditional release of all political prisoners."
"That is what will take us to a legitimate new leader in Belarus, and we really look forward to that," Fisher said.
Fisher was sworn in as the first U.S. ambassador to Belarus since 2008 in December 2020 but, because of the leadership dispute in Belarus, she has not taken up her post in Minsk.
Belarusian authorities have forcibly expelled or jailed opposition leaders, arrested tens of thousands of people, targeted dozens of NGOs, and refused accreditation to or forced out journalists since a crackdown on massive street protests began after longtime leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed to have won a sixth presidential term on August 9, 2020.
His reelection claim has been dismissed by the beleaguered opposition and the West, which has slapped multiple rounds of sanctions to pressure Lukashenka's regime to ease the crackdown, talk with the opposition, and ensure a new, independent election.
Exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who considers herself the winner of the disputed election, met with U.S. President Joe Biden and other senior U.S. officials last month in a visit to Washington that Fisher called "absolutely historic."
"We spent time thinking about how we can affect what is happening inside Belarus today, how it is we can drive toward dialogue and a new election," Fisher said. "We talked about ways that the United States…and our partners in Europe can best support those who are seeking the rule of law and a more democratic Belarus."
At the same time, Fisher said, the United States has found that diplomacy with the Lukashenka government rarely "leads to engagement and response."
"So we will continue to look for additional tools of pressure to affect the decision-making calculation inside Belarus," she said.
Fisher added, however, that the standoff in Belarus is between "the people of Belarus and a dictator."
"This is about their desire to have their voices heard by their leadership," she said.