Antony Blinken to meet with Belarus opposition leader in Washington

Antony Blinken to meet with Belarus opposition leader in Washington

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 Lukashenko in an August 2020 election denounced by the international community as neither free nor fair.

The top US diplomat will join Tsikhanouskaya’s meeting with Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Toria Nuland at the State Department, according to an updated departmental public schedule released Monday morning.

In an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto Monday, Tsikhanouskaya said the United States “has a moral obligation to be with us.” She asked the US “to help civil society to survive.”

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.

A State Department spokesperson told CNN last Friday that officials looked “forward to discussing with (Tsikhanouskaya) how the United States can continue to support the aspirations of the Belarusian people” and said that the US “stands with the people of Belarus and members of its civil society, supports their aspirations for a democratic, free, and prosperous future.”

“We echo their call for the regime to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. We are committed to close coordination with like-minded allies and partners, on next steps,” the spokesperson said.

The US and international community have taken a series of actions against 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.”

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, despite a call from bipartisan members of the newly formed “Friends of Belarus Caucus” for him to do so. Those lawmakers said in a letter to Biden last week that 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.”

CNN’s Donald Judd contributed to this report.

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