“Lukashenko will use Wagner to suppress Belarus”
Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, leader of the Belarusian opposition, has remained in exile in Lithuania since she had to leave her country after winning the presidential election against Alexander Lukashenko, who did not admit defeat. she caters to The vanguard in Rome, where he met with the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, after the Belarusian president mediated with the rebellion of the head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgueni Prigozhin, against Vladimir Putin.
message to the west
“We need to hear that Belarus will not be a consolation prize for Putin”
What impact will the arrival of the Wagner group in Belarus have?
First the Russian military, then the shipment of nuclear weapons, now Wagner... It is a huge threat to the Belarusian people and our neighbors, but also to our independence. We see how Lukashenko is selling our country piece by piece just to stay in power. We have no proof that Prigozhin is in Belarus or that the Wagners are in the country, we only see that they are building a camp for them. What we have seen in a press conference is that Lukashenko himself does not know Wagner's destination, he does not even know if Prigozhin is in Belarus or in Saint Petersburg. He does not control the situation.
Was he really acting as a mediator or was he an instrument of Putin to solve the crisis?
Lukashenko's role is greatly exaggerated. He was just Putin's messenger. Perhaps it was too humiliating for Putin to communicate with Prigozhin and he used him to send a message. Now Lukashenko has gained a few minutes of fame but does not understand the consequences of his participation in this so-called agreement. He only follows orders from Putin.
Are you concerned that he said that the Wagner group could collaborate with the Belarusian army?
We don't know what Wagner is going to do in Belarus. Lukashenko said that he is going to legalize them and that they are going to train the Belarusian military, but we know Prigozhin's fame. They are rapists, murderers, what are they going to teach our soldiers?
Are you afraid that you could use them as another tool of repression?
That's the feeling. Lukashenko realizes that the people do not support him. Three years have passed since the elections but people are quite active, in hiding, yes, but a movement has emerged since the war started and we have intelligence, volunteers, activists... Lukashenko knows that when an opportunity arises these people will will rise again. In that case he is going to use Wagner to suppress the Belarusian people and it will be a horrible situation, because we know what they are capable of.
Have you noticed an increase in repression since the war?
Many people are clearly anti-war. 86% of Belarusians are against entering it. The people who are supporting the Ukrainians have also become enemies of the regime. For example, people who have donated money to the Ukrainian army have been sentenced to years in prison. A young woman who sang a Ukrainian song has received two years.
How many political prisoners are there currently?
Human rights defenders know that there are about 1,500 political prisoners, but this number can grow to 5,000 because not all their relatives are ready to recognize them as such, because the attitude against political prisoners is much worse than against ordinary criminals. We have evidence of some 20,000 cases of torture.
What consequences will the shipment of nuclear weapons announced by Putin have?
It is a great threat because it makes our country a target for a possible counterattack. It also ensures the presence of Russia for many years, it will be difficult to get rid of these weapons. It is also a great threat to our neighbors and is used by Putin to blackmail the West.
Have you heard from your husband?
Many political prisoners are held incommunicado. I haven't heard from my husband for four months. The lawyer cannot visit him, the letters do not reach him. A few days ago I received a message that he had died. I hoped it was fake because it wasn't the first time, and I openly asked to be shown my husband. Two days ago I received a video of him in prison through a propaganda channel. It took me a while to recognize him because he looks horrible, his face has changed, but at least I know he's alive, unless it was recorded a long time ago.
Is there still an active resistance in Belarus?
It depends on what active means. It is almost impossible to be visible because this would lead to arrest, but people are ready when there is an opportunity. Recently there was news that Lukashenko disappeared for a couple of days and that he was sick, and with the situation with Wagner people began to move. They told us that they were ready to act and asked for instructions to go to the streets. This shows that there is a boiling society but until we know that the moment is right we will not call people to take action, because we would have a new wave of repression. Also our military volunteers in Ukraine, the Kastus Kalinoŭski unit and others, have declared that they are ready to enter Belarus, but I stick to the idea of a peaceful path. I want to believe in diplomacy, in pressure and in the political isolation of the regime, but I know that there are many scenarios.
Will this regiment be able to enter Belarus?
They want to do it. I am cautious because it gives people the impression that they just have to wait and someone will save us, but I have said that everyone should share the responsibility of participating in a new uprising, not sitting around waiting.
What do you expect from the NATO summit?
Now all the focus is on Ukraine, and the Belarusian question has been somewhat forgotten. I call on our allies to be our voice at the NATO summit and to give a European perspective for Belarus: we chose Europe in 2020 and we want to take this path, but for 28 years people have been persuaded to think that our only ally it's Russia. We need to hear that we are welcome in Europe, that we will not be abandoned, and that Belarus will not be handed over as a consolation prize to Putin in the event of negotiations with Ukraine.
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