Belarus’ opposition leader on fighting the Lukashenko regime from exile

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was a former teacher and self-described housewife catapulted to run for president of Belarus when her candidate husband was arrested in 2020. Even in exile after the disputed election, she’s the biggest threat against strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s hold over Belarus. She has captivated Belarusians with her campaign for democracy and been nominated for the Nobel Prize. POLITICO’s Ryan Heath asks Tsikhanouskaya about how she plans to corral the international community for tighter sanctions and about how she’s working with informants within the Lukashenko regime to bring it down.

On deciding to run for office

“I didn't have one week. I just had one evening for decision. And at that moment, I wasn't hesitating. First of all, because I was sure that the Central Election Commission wouldn't register me, but for sure they wanted to make laugh of me, of housewife. They thought nobody would vote for a woman without any political background. And you know, it was maybe the hugest mistake, but I think that regime lost connection with Belarus and people. They didn't understand that people have changed.” – Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus’ opposition leader

On the changes she would make if she assumed power in Belarus

“Violence has to stop in Belarus, and only after this we'll discuss this period of transition of power. It will take about 60 to 90 days only before new elections, so we'll have to discuss who will rule the country during this period. It could be me or together with other political leaders, and after new elections, new president will come to the power and together we'll be resilient. We'll build a new country where people are respected.”

On life under the Lukashenko regime

“The detentions are continuing everyday. People may be detained for the color of their socks or for their comments and videos or whatever. People absolutely not safe in the apartments. People in masks can enter your apartment, put the sack on your head in front of your children's eyes and jail you. It's awful, but despite this people are not giving up. People resisting as they can.”

On why sanctions are an important tool in the fight against the Lukashenko regime

We understand that, as I always repeat, sanctions are not the silver bullet, but they really can stop the way of behaving of the regime. And regime is really afraid of United States sanctions … And I have to say that sanctions should be joint, that USA and European Union, the United Kingdom and other democratic countries should act in one action to support each other. And we see that Belarus’ regime doesn't understand diplomatic language. They understand only the language of power.”

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