Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya told U.S. lawmakers on June 9 that authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka is turning Belarus into “a North Korea of Europe” and urged the United States to expand sanctions against the people and enterprises who finance his regime.
Tsikhanouskaya testified remotely from Prague to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, telling its members that Lukashenka’s decision to divert a Ryanair flight on May 23 in order to arrest dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich crossed a line and made him a threat to international peace and security.
“Hence the international reaction has finally been swift and effective, imposing practical measures and starting an ICAO international investigation,” she said, referring to the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization.
But she said the international reaction must not be limited to the Ryanair flight incident. The situation in Belarus deserves a “comprehensive and unwavering” response from the United States and its partners.
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“Otherwise, we all will face such situations in the future as Lukashenka is turning my country into a North Korea of Europe -- nontransparent, unpredictable, and dangerous.”
The United States, its partners in Europe, and other like-minded countries have the power to “stop this trajectory,” she said, urging the United States to expand the sanctions against “cronies” of Lukashenka who finance the regime.
She also called on Western countries to discuss the crisis in Belarus during high-profile events such as the upcoming Group of Seven summit in Britain and invite Belarus’s pro-democratic leaders to participate, and she called for the European Union to launch a high-profile conference on the crisis in Belarus.
Earlier on June 9, Tsikhanouskaya addressed the Czech Senate, calling for the creation of an international tribunal to investigate and prosecute crimes reportedly committed by the Lukashenka regime. “We cannot allow dictators to write history,” Tsikhanouskaya told Czech lawmakers.
The U.S. envoy to Minsk meanwhile told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Lukashenka has increased his dependence on Russia to a point where he barely has a say within his own country, even over its military.
Ambassador Julie Fisher, who has been unable to take up her post in Minsk because the Belarusian government has denied her a visa, told the committee on June 9 that Lukashenka has shown a willingness “to increase dependency on Russia in every possible sphere.”
Fisher said it was not new that Russian troops are in Belarus, but the question of how many is new, adding that the United States will be monitoring upcoming military exercises between Belarus and Russia.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
Asked whether she could confirm that Russia has asked to put another military base in Belarus, Fisher said she could not.
Fisher also said the arrest of journalist and blogger Raman Pratasevich was further evidence of the regime’s "utter disregard for international norms and human rights and reflects the new lows to which Lukashenka is willing to sink in order to eliminate any trace of dissent."
She noted Lukashenka’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi just days after the diversion of the Ryanair flight and arrest of Pratasevich, who is now jailed in Belarus.
Fisher also said that the United States is “not done by a long shot” on imposing sanctions on Belarus, saying several business sectors are under consideration.
She said that since the economy of Belarus is still largely state-run it is important to acknowledge just how effective sectoral sanctions could be.
The State Department is working with the White House to determine which sectors should be targeted.
Fisher said the U.S. government is strengthening its assistance to the Belarusian people, including more than $20 million in additional regional and global assistance from USAID that has been identified to provide emergency support for people forced to flee Belarus and others supporting the opposition.
The testimonies of Tsikhanouskaya and Fisher before the Senate committee came ahead of a vote on June 10 in the European Parliament on a nonbinding resolution condemning Lukashenka's regime and its actions.