PRAGUE -- A leading Belarusian opposition official has called on the European Union to live up to its commitment to support democracy and announce that it will stop recognizing the rule of strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka at the end of a three-month transition period.
“It is a very important and necessary signal to Belarusian society. The time for the declaration has already passed. Actions are needed,” Paval Latushka, a former insider turned opposition activist, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service in an interview in Prague on September 10.
Latushka, who said he slipped through Belarusian border guards in a diplomatic car, met in Prague earlier in the day with the Czech Republic’s foreign minister to discuss аn EU declaration.
The former Belarusian ambassador is a member of the seven-person presidium of the Coordination Council, which was set up last month with the goal to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the political crisis gripping Minsk following the August 9 presidential election.
The Coordination Council wants the European Union to end its recognition of Lukashenka after November 5. Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, claimed to win the presidential election with 80 percent of the vote. The opposition said it was rigged in his favor.
Latushka said Poland and Lithuania have already backed such a declaration, and he said he thinks that the Czech Republic is ready to support it as well.
However, he hinted the EU is not yet unified on the position because of the “geopolitical concerns of third countries," a possible reference to Russia, which backs Lukashenka.
“The European Union taught us! Taught us democracy! Now it is time to help,” he said with apparent frustration.
He questioned “how many acts of violence are still required” against Belarusian civil society before the EU will act.
Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets since August 9 to protest the outcome of the election, which handed Lukashenka another five-year term.
The protesters are demanding he step down, release all political prisoners, and hold free and fair elections.
Lukashenka has unsuccessfully sought to smother the daily protests with arrests and vicious beatings. Police have detained thousands of protesters over the past month and tortured hundreds.
Among those arrested are members of the Coordination Council’s presidium.
Most recently, Maryya Kalesnikava was snatched off the street in Minsk by masked men on September 7 and later arrested on charges of "public calls for seizing power in the country."
Most of the presidium's seven members have either been arrested or forced to leave the country. Latushka had been questioned by Belarus's Investigative Committee.
The 47-year-old Latushka, who also served as a spokesman at Belarus's Foreign Ministry and as the country's culture minister, told RFE/RL he decided to join the opposition after seeing images of the tortured protesters.
The civil servant's move angered Lukashenka, who indirectly called him out for “crossing a red line.”
Latushka expressed little hope that Lukashenka would leave office peacefully.
He said the recently published photographs of Lukashenka brandishing weapons during the protests was meant “to show he will fight for power, including by using violence.”
However, he said Lukashenka's recent comments about implementing constitutional changes -- even if he has no intention of carrying through on them -- showed that the protests were having an impact on the authoritarian leader.
Latushka also claimed that Lukashenka's recent visit to the prosecutor's office is a sign that the president is concerned about the strength of his support inside the government.
"He clearly understands that the government apparatus today is against him," Latushka said.
The opposition leader said he was surprised that many government officials were not afraid to send him text messages of support or call him.
Lukashenka, however, continues to receive critical support from Russia, the nation's ally.
Latushka said he was disappointed that Russia did not express outrage over the beatings of protesters nor respond to outreach from the Coordination Council.
He hinted the Kremlin’s policy of backing Lukashenka would fail in the long run.
"Russia needs to understand that if it has strategic interests, medium-term interests in Belarus, it needs to speak with those who will be in power tomorrow. They know well that Lukashenka's time has passed," he said.