Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called for increased support against authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka, saying his autocratic regime threatens to spread chaos across Europe.
In an opinion piece published in The New York Times on August 23, Tsikhanouskaya wrote that "for the good of the continent," Lukashenka must be stopped amid a sometimes violent crackdown on dissent following a disputed August 2020 election that has left 10 people dead.
She added that the recent forced landing of a European plane in Minsk to arrest a journalist and the hanging of a Belarusian community leader in Kyiv showed that "unless we contain the bandit at large in the middle of Europe, no European citizen is safe."
"Belarus is on the front line of the struggle between autocracy and democracy. International support has been heartening, but more can be done," she wrote.
"After all, it's not just about Belarus. The regime has become a security problem for all of Europe," she added.
In power since 1994, former Soviet state farm chief Lukashenka claimed a landslide victory and a sixth term in the presidential vote that millions believe was rigged, sparking unprecedented protests and a brutal clampdown that shows few signs of flagging.
Day after day for months after the election, crowds of citizens took to the streets in the capital, Minsk, and other cities and towns across Belarus to join demonstrations, displaying defiance in the face of the frequently violent tactics of the police and security forces deployed to crush them.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
Tsikhanouskaya noted that more than 35,000 people had been detained, nearly 5,000 of whom claim they were tortured.
The authorities have started 4,691 politically motivated criminal cases, and according to Vyasna, an independent human rights center, there are now over 600 political prisoners in the country.
Most opposition leaders have either been locked up or forced to flee, including Tsikhanouskaya, the accidental candidate who filled in when her husband, a popular blogger, was locked up on charges widely seen as bogus and barred from the election.
Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters contend would have won the election if the ballot count had been honest, now resides in Lithuania as she meets with senior officials in Europe and, late last month, with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House, to ratchet up pressure on Lukashenka.
The 38-year-old opposition leader's call came the same day that the prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland urged the United Nations to take action against Belarus for encouraging migrants to cross illegally into the European Union, calling it a "hybrid attack" on the bloc.
Tsikhanouskaya said the "democratic community" should further develop and expand aid programs aimed at Belarusian civil society, such as Denmark's support for independent media and Germany's funding for students, along with directly targeting Lukashenka's regime by removing "any loopholes [Lukashenka] and his allies may exploit" among the current sanctions imposed on them by Western governments.
The regime should also be cut off from international funding coming from the United Nations, the World Bank, or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and denied access to financial support from the International Monetary Fund, she said.
"What's more, the dictatorship in Belarus should be brought before international courts to answer for its crimes," Tsikhanouskaya said.
"The regime, to be sure, could try to buy time for itself -- by imitating reform and trying to trade the release of political prisoners for a softening of sanctions, as some state diplomats have suggested. The world should not be fooled. Instead, through strong and united support, the democratic nations across the globe can help Belarus step out of dictatorship and into freedom."