- President Macron met opposition leader and presidential candidate Svetlana Tijanóvskaya in Vilnius.
- Putin’s spokesman Dimitri Peskov played down the meeting between Macron and Tijanóvskaya.
- Protests have been ongoing in Belarus since August 9.
Canada and the United Kingdom on Wednesday announced sanctions against the Belarusian President Aléxander Lukashenko, his son, and other senior Belarusian government officials. The sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes. They were the first sanctions to be implemented by major Western powers.
In another blow to the Belarusian dictator, hours earlier, the opposition received significant support from the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. On a tour of Lithuania and Latvia, President Macron met opposition leader and presidential candidate Svetlana Tijanóvskaya in Vilnius, to whom he promised help to mediate with the Minsk government.
“We will do our best as Europeans to help mediate and we will come back to OSCE mediation in order to progress,” Macron told reporters, indicating that he wants the mediation to start in the next few days or weeks.
Macron endorsed the main demands of the Belarusian opposition. “Our objective is for this mediation to begin in the next few days or weeks,” Macron said. “The aim is a peaceful transition, the release of people who are in prison for their political opinions and the holding of free elections under international observation,” he said.
Tijanóvskaya thanked Macron for not recognizing Lukashenko as the president of Belarus. The French president admitted, however, that the mediation task requires the participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko’s main supporter.
Macron’s three-day visit to the Baltic region comes at a time of enormous tension between the European Union and Russia. Convincing Putin will be difficult.
The governments of Russia and Belarus have held meetings this September to bring positions closer and strengthen their ties. The Kremlin chief confirmed his support for Lukashenko by receiving him two weeks ago in Sochi and offering him a $1.5 billion loan to solve his financial problems.
Putin’s spokesman Dimitri Peskov played down the meeting between Macron and Tijanóvskaya, describing it as a meeting between “the French president and a Belarusian citizen.” During a forum of the Russian and Belarusian regions, Putin declared yesterday that he is ready to stand by Minsk’s side.
”Europe’s Last Dictator”
Nicknamed Europe’s last dictator, Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, but his recent re-election is in dire dispute having been rejected by both the local opposition and the west. The dictator is currently only enjoying the support of Russia, and has rejected calls for new elections.
The protests that have been ongoing in Belarus ensued after Lukashenko claimed a controversial re-election with 80 percent of the vote on August 9.
The nation’s opposition chief, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, insists that she won the election with a landslide, but the local electoral commission rigged her out in favor of the incumbent, Lukashenko.
Following the protests that ensued, the nation’s security forces, in a bid to halt them, have so far arrested thousands of protesters and beat and tortured them. The move has been denounced by the west, as well as various rights organizations.
As a result of the brutal crackdown, several people have since lost their lives. However, the Belarusians are determined to send Lukashenko packing. The demonstrations across the country have been ongoing with Belarusians taking part in their thousands.
Notably, over 100,000 people have so far been flooding the streets of the capital, Minsk, for four straight weekends a clear show of their determination for regime change.