Three neighbours of Belarus have issued an ultimatum to President Alexander Lukashenko, facing street protests over “falsified” election results: embrace a Lithuania-led “democratic” initiative or face sanctions.
Lukashenko has served as Belarus’s president since the office was created in 1994. However, an electoral victory on Sunday that would have seen him extend his rule by another five years has been declared a fraud by the opposition, and its veracity is doubted by Belarus’ European neighbors.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda announced on Wednesday that his country, along with Poland and Latvia, are ready to mediate between Lukashenko and the opposition, provided the president stops his ongoing crackdown on protests, releases jailed demonstrators, and forms a national council to work with political and civil opponents.
Nauseda presented a broad three-point plan that involves ending the police violence, the release of all the detained protesters, and a “dialogue with civil society.”
Should Lukashenko reject the terms, Nauseda has threatened Belarus with sanctions “either at the European level or at the national level.”
Speaking to CNN, Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius sided with the Belarusian opposition, calling the results of Sunday’s election – in which Lukashenko is said to have won 80 percent of the vote – “doubtful.”
“The process was not democratic,” Linkevicius said, later adding that the “democratic world holds a moral obligation” to hit Lukashenko with “political consequences.”
With street protests raging in Minsk and beyond, Lukashenko has already accused foreign powers – namely Poland and the Czech Republic – of stoking unrest in an attempt to unseat him. Though Warsaw and Prague deny the charge, Lithuania has given refuge to opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who Linkevicius said on Wednesday will speak out against Lukashenko from her self-imposed exile.
With the Baltic countries leading the charge for sanctions, EU foreign ministers will meet on Friday to discuss a Europe-wide response to Lukashenko’s election. Earlier this week, the EU condemned “state violence against peaceful protesters,” and called for “the observance of human rights, democracy, and free and fair elections” in Belarus.
It is still unclear, however, whether the gathering of ministers will decide to impose sanctions on Minsk.
As Tikhanovskaya prepares to denounce Lukashenko from Lithuania, one Lithuanian MP floated the idea of his country inviting Belarusian opposition leaders to form an “alternative center of power in exile” in its capital, Vilnius, local news outlet Delfi reported on Wednesday. Lithuania is already home to a sizable number of Belarusian exiles, and talk in the Baltic state has now shifted to offering political asylum to more.
Latvia, too, has offered to take in any Belarusian asylum seekers, while, in Poland, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski offered assistance and “solidarity” to any opposition figures or activists who turn up there.
Think your friends would be interested? Share this story!