Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is in Washington to seek more American support for the Belarusian pro-democracy movement against strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime, has asked the United States to guarantee the independence of her country and support the opposition's calls for a fresh presidential election.
Tsikhanouskaya held talks at the White House on July 20 with U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan after meeting the previous day with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland.
"I asked the U.S. to be the guarantors of our independence, that they will stand for our independence if it is under the threat. Our independence is the highest value for Belarusians," Tsikhanouskaya tweeted after the meeting with Sullivan.
Belarus has been mired in turmoil since a disputed presidential election in August 2020 that gave Lukashenka his sixth consecutive term in power.
Lukashenka, who maintains support from key ally and financial backer Russia, has since put down street protests and dissent over the vote with sometimes lethal force, jailing thousands of people and forcing most opposition leaders who haven't been imprisoned to leave the country.
The opposition says the vote was rigged and Tsikhanouskaya, who has been in exile in Lithuania since Lukashenka launched his crackdown, was the true winner.
"Thankful for the U.S. principled position on the crisis in Belarus," she wrote. "I called for enhancing civil society aid & supporting the demand of Belarusians for a new free & fair presidential election."
The West refuses to recognize the official results of the election and does not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader. The European Union, the United States, and other countries have imposed several rounds of sanctions against the 66-year-old, some of his family members, other senior officials, and on key economic sectors.
But Tsikhanouskaya said earlier on July 20 that she has asked U.S. officials to impose more sanctions on Belarusian companies in key sectors such as potash, oil, wood, and steel.
She said she had given U.S. officials a list of enterprises, among them the state-owned Belaruskali, a producer of potash fertilizer, that should be further targeted.
Such additional sanctions would go beyond existing punitive measures on Lukashenka's cronies and government bodies and "will be a real hit on him, to make him change his behavior and to release political prisoners," Tsikhanouskaya told reporters.
Tsikhanouskaya, during a webinar sponsored by the Atlantic Council think tank, called for much tougher action by the West against Lukashenka.
"I think it's high time for democratic countries to unite and show their teeth," said Tsikhanouskaya, who also planned to visit the Senate for meetings with lawmakers from both parties later on July 20.