Biden Meets Exiled Belarusian Opposition Leader to Show Support
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden met the exiled opposition leader of Belarus, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, at the White House Wednesday as the post-Soviet nation is swept by a new round of crackdowns against the opposition, media and civil society.
“The United States stands with the people of Belarus in their quest for democracy and universal human rights,” Biden said on Twitter after speaking with Tsikhanouskaya in a meeting that wasn’t listed on his public schedule.
Although the encounter was a symbolic show of support, Tsikhanouskaya, who’s living in exile in Vilnius, Lithuania, became the first politician from the former Soviet republic to receive such high-level treatment by a U.S. leader since Belarus became independent in 1991.
Tsikhanouskaya, who challenged Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election last year, was forced to leave the country shortly after the vote in August. Even as her husband remained in prison in Belarus, she rallied supporters and organized opposition. She also has met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France.
The meeting with Biden took place as Lukashenko, targeted by U.S. and European Union sanctions, unleashed a new round of repression against his opponents, shutting down independent media outlets and dozens of nongovernmental organizations and jailing activists and reporters. Neighboring NATO member Lithuania accused his regime of organizing a “hybrid aggression” against the EU by directing a flood of mainly Middle Eastern migrants across the border.
The embattled Lukashenko this month accused the U.S., Germany and European neighbors of organizing sleeper cells with plans to overthrow his rule.
“These are not just economic sanctions, this is terror,” Lukashenko said in a video published by state-owned news agency Belta during a meeting with officials and supporters ahead of the country’s independence day in Minsk.
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