Belarus' President-in-Exile Urges Joe Biden to Help Topple Putin-Backed Dictatorship

Belarus' opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has said she hopes the Biden White House will bolster her quest to oust the country's strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko.

The man often termed "Europe's last dictator" remains in power after an August election that was viewed internationally as rigged. Since then, a brutal crackdown and thousands of arrests have not dimmed the enthusiasm of protesters who view Tikhanovskaya as their rightfully elected president.

In exile in neighboring Lithuania, she said she was optimistic about the role that President-elect Joe Biden could play in toppling Lukashenko, a leader who has relied on the support of Russia's President Vladimir Putin to stay in power.

"I am sure that Joe Biden will fulfill his promises about his attitude to Belarus and this regime," she told Newsweek from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. "We know that he is standing for democracy and he will support Belarusian people and Belarusian society."

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, pictured in Stockholm, Sweden, on November 17. She says she hopes President-elect Joe Biden can help oust Alexander Lukashenko. Claudio BRESCIANI

Last month, Biden said that, if elected president, he would increase pressure on Lukashenko, adding that President Donald Trump "refuses to speak out on their behalf."

Biden called for an international approach to sanctions on Lukashenko, saying: "I continue to stand with the people of Belarus and support their democratic aspirations."

This sentiment has encouraged Tikhanovskaya, who has met European leaders over the past two months and can count on their broad support. However, she feels U.S. pressure would be key to forcing Lukashenko's hand.

"We consider economic sanctions as one of the most important ways of putting pressure on the regime because, while Lukashenko has financial support from abroad, he has this money for riot police, for violence, for killing and torture.

"Joe Biden has a strong position on the Belarusian question. I hope he will fulfill what he has said. I think he would be braver in his decisions and his actions on Belarus."

Tikhanovskaya entered the election only after her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, who is now in jail, was barred from running.

On the campaign trail, huge crowds flocked to her events, inspired by her appearance on stage with two other female activists, Veronika Tsepkalo and Maria Kolesnikova, who symbolised a hopeful future.

"Europe has a strong position on the Belarusian question, but there are so many countries so, sometimes, it is a little bit too slow and difficult," Tikhanovskaya told Newsweek. "If the U.S. put pressure on the regime, I am sure Europe will be more active," she added.

The graphic below from Statista shows the official share of the vote Alexander Lukashenko has claimed.

Belarus Election 2020 Statista