High time to ask out loud: What is behind official Kyiv’s conspicuous distancing from the Belarusian democratic opposition, and in particular, its leader Sviatlana Tsihanouskaya?  Why is she being received by heads of state and political leaders from Washington to Poland and yet is still being ignored by President Volodymyr Zelensky and his administration?

Why is official Ukraine in this regard very much out of sync with its democratic Western partners when solidarity with, and the unity of, those on the frontline of the fight against Russian imperialist aggression is vital?

The latest developments call for this question to be asked very directly, so that it not continue to be swept under the carpet as if it didn't matter. It matters a lot and impacts on Ukraine’s strategy and reputation.

Advertisement

On this very day, Ukraine’s mortal enemy, Vladimir Putin, is again being hosted by his Belarusian vassal, dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, in Minsk, almost a year since he was last there. He is participating in a summit of the anti-Western Russian-run Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in the Belarusian capital.

And on this same day, Tsihanouskaya, who is widely believed to have won the Belarusian presidential election in 2020 that Lukashenko rigged, brutally suppressing peaceful mass protests that followed, issued another tweet on X expressing her solidarity with Ukraine.

In it, she welcomed the Nov. 22 decision of the Ukrainian parliament “to impose sanctions on Lukashenko’s cronies and military complex.”

Ukrainska Pravda Journalists Filming Trade Between Polish and Russian Farmers Held by Police at Polish Border
Other Topics of Interest

Ukrainska Pravda Journalists Filming Trade Between Polish and Russian Farmers Held by Police at Polish Border

The Ukrainian journalists said that some of what they filmed was removed by the Polish police and that they were only released from police custody after the intervention of Ukraine's ambassador.

Diplomatically, she did not ask why it has taken Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, so long to do so, despite the fact that Ukraine’s allies had imposed sanctions against the Russian and Belarusian defense sectors much earlier. 

While Lukashenko has been at Moscow’s bid and call and kept an iron grip on the Belarusian population, Tsihanouskaya and her team – Belarus’s democratic government in exile – have been campaigning very hard to raise support for their cause and for the Lukashenko regime to be ousted. To this day, it is keeping her husband along with hundreds of other Belarusians as political prisoners in its Belarusian Gulag.

Advertisement

Tsihanouskaya was a total newcomer to politics who was thrust unexpectedly into the political limelight after her husband was arrested and she took over his candidacy for the Belarusian presidency. 

Forced into exile, it is understandable that initially, she was very guarded in her political statements, including about Russian-Ukrainian relations. But since Russia launched its full-scale war against Ukraine in February 2022 with Lukashenko’s active collaboration, she has become increasingly outspoken in affirming Belarus’s democratic European self-identification and support for Ukraine. 

In September she told the European Parliament that without Ukraine and Belarus, the political project for Europe will not be complete: “The accession of Belarus and Ukraine to the EU will lead to the final collapse of the Evil Empire. Forever…”

For their part, members of the European Parliament recognized Lukashenko as an accomplice in crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine.

Advertisement

But for some reason, official Kyiv has continued to shun her. President Zelensky has neither extended his hand to her in solidarity nor had much to say about the struggle for freedom in neighboring Belarus.

I had the pleasure of meeting the Belarusian President-elect earlier this month at the Web Summit in Lisbon and interviewing her for Kyiv Post. There was no ambiguity in her position. She strongly supports the fight of the Ukrainian people against Russian aggression. She understands that without a free Ukraine, there can be no free Belarus.

But clearly, Kyiv’s strange standoffishness is felt and hurts. She adds in her most recent tweet: “Targeted int'l measures against the regime are crucial, but we also need increased support for the Belarusian people, democratic forces & civil society in our fight for freedom.”

So what is behind Kyiv’s incongruous behavior towards the democratic forces in a neighboring country seeking freedom and liberation from Russian domination? Some sort of behind-the-scenes agreements with Lukashenko? Money, business, mutual advantages, military factors?

Perhaps before 2022, but today? Surely not the naïve assumption that there can be any dealings with a puppet of Moscow who has allowed his country to become a staging area for Russian military forces, requested that Russian tactical nuclear weapons be deployed on his territory, and who relies on crude repression to crush freedom at home and stay in control?

Advertisement

And one more final thought. This week Ukraine is marking the 10th anniversary of the Euromaidan protests that turned into the Revolution of Dignity.  One of the first democratic martyrs shot down at that time was a Belarusian supporter of Ukraine, Mikhail Zhyzneuski. A white-red-white Belarusian national flag still marks the site where he fell on Kyiv’s Hrushevsky Street. And today Belarusian volunteers are fighting together with Ukrainian forces against the Russian invaders.

 

 

Photo of Mikhail Zhyzneuski

 

Seeing President Zelensky lay a wreath on Nov. 21 in Kyiv to honor the martyrs of the EuroMaidan accompanied by the president of Moldova, Maia Sandu, was very touching. But I could not help but think: how much more powerful would that image have been for the entire world to see with the Belarusian Presidential-elect alongside them? 

I remain puzzled why Sanu has officially received Tsihanouskaya in Chisinau while Zelensky has not welcomed her to Kyiv.  We have a right to know.

To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter

Comments (5)

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
Valerie
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

As a Belarusan, I can offer some insight to satisfy your "right to know". The events of 2020 inflicted a huge trauma on the Belarusian dictator, from which he cannot recover years later. Suddenly he realised that "his people" were going to remove him from power, and this made him extremely furious: tens of thousands went through arrests and were tortured in jails. Tens (if not hundreds) of thousands had to flee the country under the threat of imminent arrests and tortures. There are over five thousand political prisoners in the country. Detentions are still going on: every day people are violently arrested for likes and comments written 3 years ago, for being recognized by face identification software as participants in protests in the summer and autumn of 2020.

Svetlana Tsihanouskaya is a red rag to Lukashenko, he would strangle her with his bare hands if only he could reach her. Her husband started the unrest in the country, he inspired people to have their say in the presidential elections of 2020. Were Svetlana openly supported by Kiev, Lukashenko might go ballistic and send his troops to Ukraine. This guy is known for his vindictive violent personality, so no one can guarantee that Ukraine's support of the opposition would not become the last straw that restrains Lukashenko from invading Ukraine. This said, Zelensky has every reason to be very cautious in order not to provoke the crazed Belarusian tyrant.

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
Imokru2
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

Zelensky is busy with the Russians at the moment, protecting Ukrainian independence and democracy, and recovering occupied territory to include Crimea.
He is keeping Belarus independence in the background for now because he does not want a new Russian aggressive front on the border with Belarus. No need to stir up a hornet’s nest.
But picture a map of Europe after the war. Belarus will stick out like a sore thumb within
the north-south line of NATO. It is obvious that Belarus will become an independent nation within the bounds of NATO and the EU.

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
Andrei
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

Disgraceful attitude of Ukraine authorities both to simple Belarusians and their president-elect S.Tsikhanuskaya is becoming more and more evident to in the West.

Btw, neither sanctions nor any slightest restrictions have been imposed by Ukraine towards the personality of Mr Lukashenka. Do you still got any questions?

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
Dave Duringer
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

And for many of the same reasons, it’s time to stop shunning Trump and MAGA, too. It’s cowardly and will come back to bite Kyiv.

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
Sandy
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

Tsihanouskaya blew it at the outset when she tried to appease Putin.

Steve
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

@Sandy, Please give an example of this alleged behavior.

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png