EU leaders will meet for an extraordinary virtual summit today to discuss how to move forward with Belarus in light of the disputed election results and violent police crackdowns there.
Last week, the EU agreed on imposing sanctions against “those responsible for violence and falsification” in Belarus following a controversial presidential election that sparked mass protests in the country.
Russia in a key role
On Tuesday, several EU leaders called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to put pressure on Belarusian head of state Alexander Lukashenko, of whom he is a key ally, to foster dialogue with the opposition protesting for the 10th consecutive day against the presidential election results.
Russia has, in fact, been reacting in an uncharacteristically measured manner as the events in Belarus have unfolded.
In the evening, several thousand demonstrators gathered again in Independence Square in Minsk, waving the red and white flags of the opposition and calling for the resignation of Lukashenko, who claims to have won 80 % of votes in the August 9 ballot — a result, the EU says, it doesn’t accept.
Putin, whose attitude will be crucial to the outcome of the crisis, had three separate telephone conversations with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the European Council Charles Michel.
Macron called on Putin to “promote appeasement and dialogue” in this country while Merkel stressed that Minsk should “renounce violence” and start a dialogue with the opposition. Michel for his part called for a “peaceful and truly inclusive dialogue”.
The Kremlin has repeatedly warned against “any attempt at foreign interference” and denounced the “pressure” exerted on the Belarusian authorities. According to the Belta news agency, Putin informed Lukashenko by telephone of the content of his conversations with European leaders.
Pressure has been mounting on Lukashenko since the disputed election with workers from several key sectors of the economy including the state television channel have gone on strike to support the protest movement.
“Friendly relations” desired with Moscow –
Speaking to his Security Council, the Belarusian president accused the opposition of seeking to seize power and threatened to “cool some hotheads” from the opposition’s “Coordination Council” for the political transition, which organised a first press conference on Tuesday.
He assured in particular that the opposition wanted to cut ties with Russia, which Maria Kolesnikova, one of the opposition figures, denied.
“I want to assure every one of our official position: we will maintain friendly, mutually beneficial, pragmatic relations […] with Russia as well as with Ukraine and the EU countries,” she said. during the press conference.
“We are only beginning to feel like an independent nation,” she continued, adding that the main objective of the opposition is “to organise another honest presidential election.”
Nobel laureate for literature Svetlana Alexievich will be part of the “Coordination Council”, whose first official meeting will take place on Wednesday.
From Lithuania where she took refuge, the opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said in a video statement: “One person has kept the country in fear for 26 years. One person stole the choice from Belarusians.”
Candidate by default after the imprisonment of her husband, the 37-year-old woman had, to everyone’s surprise, gathered crowds of supporters at her rallies and obtained the support of other opponents, succeeding in creating an unprecedented dynamic around her candidacy.
Demonstrations, strikes, resignations
After the election, police forcibly put down protests in subsequent days, killing at least two and injuring dozens. More than 6,700 people were arrested.
On Tuesday, the Interior Ministry reported a third death of a young man hit by a car while demonstrating. Those detained have reported beatings and torture.
On Sunday, the opposition organized one of the largest rallies in Belarusian history and called for a strike. Several companies followed the call.
The first Belarusian diplomat to publicly support the demonstrators, the ambassador to Slovakia Igor Lechtchenia, for his part, announced his resignation.