Putin has ‘already invaded Belarus’, claims Minsk’s opposition leader

Belarus has already been ‘invaded’ by Vladimir Putin, the country’s main opposition leader has claimed. Belarusian political activist Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya claimed her country is a victim of “Russian imperialism” not dissimilarly to Ukraine, and that Belarus’ president Alexander Lukashenko played a role in it.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya told Express.co.uk: “I’m often asked, ‘What if Putin invades Belarus?’ and I answer that he’s already there.

“Belarus was the first victim of Putin’s imperialism, Ukraine was the second. The difference is that Lukashenko was cooperative, he was personally selling our independency.

“But we can have a chance to weaken Putin’s control of Belarus, if we and the international community act quickly and decisively.”

By speaking of an invasion, Ms Tsikhanouskaya, who claims to have won the Belarusian presidential election held in 2020 and has been leading her opposition activity in exile from Lithuania over the past several months, referred to the Russian troops present in her home country.

She said: “Right now, there are several thousands of Russian soldiers on Belarus’ territory, and of course we must make sure that they are out of the country.”

In March, Ukrainian authorities said some 10,000 Russian soldiers were still in Belarus.

Mr Lukashenko played a key role in the invasion of Ukraine in February last year, as he allowed Putin to enter the territory of the neighbouring country through Belarus.

The majority of the Russian troops, however, are believed to have retreated from Belarus following a failed attempt to occupy Kyiv.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya, whose husband Sergei Tikhanovsky was arrested before the 2020 election for which he was running as an opposition candidate, discussed a possible post-Lukashenko scenario in light of speculation about the 68-year-old’s politician health.

She warned that, if Mr Lukashenko dies or leaves office in the near future, the Kremlin will likely be interested in installing “its own loyalists” in Minsk, as Belarus remains a key ground for Russia in its attempt to win the ongoing war in Ukraine.

However, she added, she doesn’t believe many in Minsk, even those in Russophile Mr Lukashenko’s circle, would easily accept a new leader blatantly chosen by Putin.

She said: “We don’t know how events will develop, but our task is to be prepared and to try to mobilise our workers, our activists on the ground and also the international society.”

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Ms Tsikhanouskaya, who in March was sentenced in absentia to a 15 year jail term, believes Mr Lukashenko leaving office would have an impact on the war in Ukraine, particularly if the democratic movement in Belarus prevails.

She said: “Putin doesn’t have enough resources to deal with both Ukraine and Belarus at the same time, and any development in Belarus would require involvement and resources from Putin. And he doesn’t have that.

“If we manage to achieve some pro-democratic development, it will be strong heat on Russia and contribution to the victory in Ukraine.”

She added a successful counter-offence led by Ukraine in its territory could also “speed up” the democratic process in Belarus.

Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994 and has often been referred to as Europe’s last dictator, returned to the public eye on May 15, five days after he was seen fragile-looking attending a military parade in Moscow.

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