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Exiled opposition figure accuses her backers of hypocrisy on Belarus

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Svetlana Tikhanovskaya wants the EU to tighten its sanctions on her home country

Former Belarusian presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has accused her European supporters of hypocrisy after an investigation revealed that EU companies were bypassing Brussels’ sanctions and importing wood from Belarus.

Belarus has been extensively sanctioned by the EU, and the bloc banned the import of timber from the country last March. Despite the embargo, an investigation by Belarusian opposition groups last December found that companies in Poland and Lithuania switched to importing wood from Belarus via Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, while still paying suppliers in Belarus directly.

Tikhanovskaya wants these loopholes to be closed. In an interview with The Guardian this week, she declared that “sometimes one has to decide whether you want to support democracy or do business,” adding that “yes, the money will be tight, but democracy is everyone’s responsibility.”

She also recommended that EU leaders cut all diplomatic contact with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

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File photo: Minsk, Belarus.
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Tikhanovskaya, the wife of jailed political activist Sergey Tikhanovsky, came to prominence in 2020 when she claimed to have won that year’s presidential elections. Officially, she gathered just over 10% of the vote, finishing in second place after Lukashenko, who secured his sixth presidential term.

From exile in Lithuania, Tikhanovskaya still maintains that she won the election, and refers to herself on social media as the “National leader of Belarus.” 

Tikhanovskaya has used her time in exile to cheer for the Ukrainian military and meet with US President Joe Biden and other NATO figureheads, urging them to increase sanctions on Lukashenko’s government. She has also asked the US to help overturn Lukashenko’s 2020 victory and push the Belarusian leader into holding fresh elections.

Lukashenko has accused the EU of waging a “hybrid war” against Belarus by treating Tikhanovskaya as a representative of the Belarusian people. In March, a court in Minsk sentenced her in absentia to 15 years in prison for leading a conspiracy to seize power by unconstitutional means, creating and leading an extremist group, and issuing public calls to overthrow the legitimate government.

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