Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said her meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday was “very friendly and warm” and there was an understanding “that there will be strong actions in the nearest future.”
In an interview with CNN following her meeting at the State Department, Tsikhanouskaya said she could not go into further details about “those strong actions” but reiterated that she had “asked the USA not to hesitate about imposing sanctions on the regime.”
“It can be painful in short-term perspective but people are suffering now because of the regime, not because of sanctions,” she said, noting that sanctions could help force the Lukashenko regime from power.
Blinken is the highest-level US official to meet with Tsikhanouskaya to date — a show of support for the dissident who was forced into exile in Lithuania after running against strongman President Alexander Lukashenko in an August 2020 election denounced by the international community as neither free nor fair.
In addition to the top US diplomat, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Toria Nuland, State Department counselor Derek Chollet and US Ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher were at the meeting.
Tsikhanouskaya told CNN that Blinken really understood the situation in Belarus and the department is “ready to help,” saying they had discussed the Belarus Democracy Act and how to make it more effective, as well as “how to be more flexible and creative in support of civil society.”
“They understand that we are fighting for values, for values of democracy, for human rights, for prevailing of law, and this is our common values,” she told CNN outside of the State Department following the meeting Monday.
Tsikhanouskaya said that “civil society is working hard” — “we have very small space inside the country to fight but we use every inch of this to continue our fight.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price offered a brief readout of the meeting at Monday’s State Department briefing, saying that “they discussed the ongoing repression, the crackdown by the Lukashenko regime and the steps that we have said and much of the international community has said that the Lukashenko regime must take.”
“As you know, Ms. Tsikhanouskaya has been at the forefront of the opposition movement in Belarus and we are happy to welcome her to the department today to continue our efforts to stand with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for human rights, democracy and their broader Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” he said.
Tsikhanouskaya said on Twitter that she would meet with national security adviser Jake Sullivan, US Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power and a number of congressional lawmakers while in DC before traveling on to New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
It is unclear if US President Joe Biden will meet with the opposition leader. Tsikhanouskaya told CNN on Monday she hadn’t gotten any confirmation that she would meet with him, saying that “of course it would be important for us to meet but already have meetings on such high level that not every leader could get, so we’re really grateful such acceptance.”
“The USA accepted me not as Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya; they accepted me on behalf of all Belarusian people, on behalf of 561 political prisoners, on behalf of 1,000 people who are in jail, on behalf of 35,000 detained and repressed people since August,” she said.
Bipartisan members of the newly formed “Friends of Belarus Caucus” said in a letter to Biden last week that he should meet with Tsikhanouskaya, saying such a meeting would “send a message to Lukashenko, his allies, and the world that the United States will not tolerate such political repressions and state-sponsored violence that have taken place in Belarus.”
A senior administration official on Friday said that “senior officials at the White House look forward to meeting Ms. (Tsikhanouskaya) next week when she is in Washington.”
In a separate interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto Monday, Tsikhanouskaya said the United States “has a moral obligation to be with us.”
Tsikhanouskaya, a former teacher whose husband was jailed by the Lukashenko regime, called on the US to do more, saying it should not hesitate to put “sanctions on the the cronies of the regime … to stop this violence as soon as possible and bring our country to new elections and after to democracy.”
“I think that nothing is enough at the moment. I’m sure that all the actions that the USA and European Union are doing … could be faster, could be stronger,” she said.
The US and international community have taken a series of actions against the Lukashenko government in the wake of last August’s election, in which “Europe’s last dictator” refused to step down and initiated a violent and ongoing campaign of crackdowns on protesters, dissidents and journalists in Belarus.
In June, the US, European Union, United Kingdom and Canada imposed fresh sanctions on Belarus in a coordinated response to the Lukashenko government’s forced landing of a Ryanair flight and arrest of an opposition journalist last month as well as the “continuing repression” in the former Soviet state.
In a joint statement, the partners said they were “united in our deep concern regarding the Lukashenka regime’s continuing attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms, and international law.”
This story has been updated with further developments Monday.
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