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As Lukashenka Sides with Putin, the Belarusian Opposition Presses On

Despite their leader’s support for Russia, most Belarusians oppose the war with Ukraine, argues Mark Temnycky

European Council President Charles Michel, right, greets Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya prior to a meeting at the European Council building in Brussels, June 2023. Photo: Virginia Mayo/Associated Press/Alamy

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When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka quickly sided with the Russian Federation. Throughout the war, the leader of Belarus has allowed Russia to send troops and military equipment to Belarus. Russian soldiers have been staying in Belarusian barracks, and both Russian soldiers and equipment have been moved from Belarus into Ukraine to assist Russia with its war efforts. In addition, Belarus allowed Russia to send rockets into Ukraine. While Lukashenka has stopped short of sending Belarusian soldiers into the fight, he has been an accomplice to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Despite their leader’s support for Russia, most Belarusians are against the war. According to a survey conducted by the Center for New Ideas and Chatham House, most Belarusians do not support the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In a different poll, Chatham House found that “more than 90% of Belarus was against joining the war on the side of Russia.” Outside of this public opposition, several Belarusian military officials have also voiced their opinions against the war. Some of these officers have resigned, protesting Lukashenka’s decision. Others have left the Belarusian military to fight as volunteers in Ukraine alongside Ukrainian armed forces.

Lukashenka has previously threatened the death penalty for those who attempt “terrorist acts” in Belarus, seen as attempts to sabotage Russian efforts. Still, Belarusian civil society continues to oppose his work.

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Behind Lukashenka’s involvement in Russia’s war is another story. As Belarus continues to receive negative press due to the actions of its government, the Belarusian opposition movement is operating in full swing. For example, when Lukashenka announced his decision to support and aid Russia during the war, hundreds of Belarusian citizens protested the decision. According to Radio Free Europe, over 800 individuals were detained for their involvement in the protests. Several opposition leaders, as well as others who have spoken out against the government, have also been imprisoned. Lukashenka has even attempted to implement policies to force exiled opposition leaders back to Belarus. Despite the state’s attempted crackdown on dissent within Belarus, the opposition remains active.

The movement has worked hard to maintain this work. Over the past few years, Belarusian political activist Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has met with officials from Western countries. During the sessions, they discussed activities within Belarus and how the country can become more democratic. They also spoke out against the Lukashenka regime. Tsikhanouskaya has also worked with European officials to discuss how to impose additional sanctions on Belarusian government officials for their autocratic rule.

Outside of these meetings, the opposition movement has also continued to pressure the Lukashenka regime through the international press. They have written articles and reports, highlighting the human rights abuses by the Belarusian government. This was especially the case during the summer of 2020, when thousands of Belarusian protestors were arrested and physically beaten after Lukashenka stole the election. More recently, the opposition has called on the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Lukashenka, given his government’s human rights violations, as well as for his decision to support Russia in the ongoing war.

Most recently, the opposition has been working with the European Union on how to issue passports and other forms of identification for exiled Belarusians. Lukashenka has previously ordered that any Belarusians outside of the country must return to Belarus to have their documents renewed, stating that Belarusian consulates will not renew documentation. This is an attempt to force the opposition back to Belarus so that they can then be arrested and imprisoned.

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According to Voice of America, many countries “have expressed interest in the idea of the new passport” for Belarusians in exile. What makes the matter challenging, however, is that the Belarusian government in exile is not recognized as an official entity.

Overall, the work of the Belarusian opposition movement has been challenging. Members differ in opinions on how to proceed forward. Others have had their lives threatened by the current Belarusian government. Despite these difficulties, the opposition members have worked hard to keep their country in the spotlight. They are determined to make their country a better place, and have pushed for the international community to punish Lukashenka and his officials for their authoritarian rule.

Three years on, the Belarusian opposition movement continues to thrive. It has evolved into a strong entity, and it continues to prosper. The future of Belarus will be bright in their hands.

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