Former presidential candidate of Belarus Svetlana Tikhanovskaya spent two weeks in the United States. The politician met with Belarusians living overseas, held talks with representatives of the State Department and Congress. The highlight of the program was a meeting with US President Joe Biden, who treated the guest to “wonderful cookies.” “Izvestia” understood the details of the visit and the reasons for Tikhanovskaya’s foreign policy activity.
What Tikhanovskaya did in the USA
Former presidential candidate of Belarus Svetlana Tikhanovskaya spent two weeks in the United States. In Washington, the oppositionist met with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, his deputy Victoria Nuland and State Department adviser Derek Scholle. In addition, she spoke with a group of senators, one of whom – Dan Sullivan – even called her “Madam President.” She laid flowers at the memorials of Tadeusz Kosciuszko and the “victims of communism”, and together with the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova to the memorial to the “victims of the Holodomor”, stating that Belarusians today are fighting the legacy of the communist regime in the person of Lukashenka.
As follows from official reports, during the negotiations, Tikhanovskaya asked for financial support of the Belarusian opposition… In particular, she knocked out money for opposition media outlets, telegram channels and other similar projects. Besides, demanded to introduce additional sanctions against Belarusian enterprises, including “Belaruskali” and the Mozyr oil refinery. She also asked to put pressure on Russia – “to give her a signal that all agreements and contracts signed by the regime are legally null and void and will be canceled.” At the same time, she noted that “Russia can play a constructive role in resolving the crisis in Belarus.” Interestingly, Tikhanovskaya’s American interlocutors, following the talks, limited themselves to short and dry messages. So, Anthony Blinken said only that he constantly discusses the Belarusian issue with the White House.
After Washington, Tikhanovskaya went to New York, but on July 28 she was unexpectedly summoned back to Washington. In the American capital, she had an unscheduled 10-minute conversation with US President Joe Biden. The head of the White House, like other American officials, Tikhanovskaya convinced that Belarus needed “practical help.” The most comical episode happened after the conversation. “We already said goodbye, but then Joe Biden came back and brought me a bunch of wonderful cookies,” Tikhanovskaya said with undisguised delight.
After that, Tikhanovskaya visited San Francisco and Los Angeles. She spoke at Stanford University on a discussion about Belarus, went to Silicon Valley, where she met with Belarusian IT specialists, spoke with Sam Kliger, Director of Eurasian and Russian Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, about her possible trip to Israel.
How Tikhanovskaya travels around the world
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya took part in the presidential elections in Belarus in August 2020. According to official figures, she won 10% of the vote. Lukashenka’s opponents did not recognize the voting results, protests were held in the country. Tikhanovskaya herself said that she considers herself the winner of the elections. At first, she tried to challenge the results of the vote count and even announced her readiness to become a “national leader.” Later she moved to Lithuania.
The authorities of the Baltic republic provided the fugitive oppositionist with housing and security, she moves around Vilnius in a representative cortege. The Seimas of Lithuania adopted a resolution in which it called Tikhanovskaya “the elected president of Belarus”, her office in the republic was given diplomatic status. Vilnius also refused to satisfy the request of the Belarusian prosecutor’s office for the extradition of the oppositionist. “We can tell the Belarusian regime that hell will freeze over before we start considering your demands,” said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielyus Landsbergis.
Immediately after moving to Lithuania, Tikhanovskaya developed a stormy foreign policy activity. By the end of August 2020, as reported in her press service, she spoke by phone with ten foreign ministers and seven leaders – presidents and prime ministers – of different countries, and also talked with the head of the EU government Ursula von der Leyen. In September-October 2020, I personally met with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. The trip to Poland, where Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki met a guest under the white-red-white flag of the Belarusian opposition and called her “the President of Belarus”, became characteristic.
In Belarus and Russia, they noted that Tikhanovskaya holds meetings in an ambiguous status. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced double standards among European politicians. He recalled an episode that took place in 2017. Then, on the eve of the elections in France, Vladimir Putin received Marine Le Pen in Moscow. Jean-Marc Hérault [тогда глава МИД Франции] criticized this meeting: “This is an attempt to interfere in the pre-election process. We, France, do not interfere in the internal affairs of Russia and we hope that Russia will not interfere in ours. ” Compare with the reaction to what is happening now in Vilnius and elsewhere. This is the question of double standards, ”Lavrov noted.
Gradually, however, Tikhanovskaya’s foreign policy activity declined. First, the protest wave in Belarus began to decline. Secondly, it became more obvious that Tikhanovskaya herself does not influence the situation in Belarus. Several times she announced a protest mobilization, but there were no outbursts of activity. Third, confidence in the Belarusian opposition has declined after a series of scandals. So, disputes at the headquarters of Tikhanovskaya flared up with the team of the former Minister of Culture of Belarus Pavel Latushko who settled in Poland. The parties did not share the project of a certain People’s Crisis Management (NAU).
The fourth factor is the revelations of the founder of the large opposition telegram channel, Roman Protasevich. He said that Tikhanovskaya lives a luxurious life. “A team of stylists and designers is working on her image. It is guarded by the Lithuanian counterpart of the Presidential Security Service. It has a tuple with all the attributes. Part of the costs for all this is covered by the Lithuanian taxpayers – they, in fact, support foreign politicians out of their own pockets. In part, these are sponsors and support of the diaspora, ”he said after being detained in Minsk.
What the experts say
Experts say that Tikhanovskaya’s visit to the United States has no practical results, because the oppositionist does not have any powers, does not decide anything. “The trip has a symbolic meaning. Americans are stirring up protest moods in Belarus. They hint to Moscow and Minsk that they will not leave Belarus alone. Yes, the opposition did not succeed last year, but attempts to rock the country will continue. The tactics have changed – instead of a siege, there will be a siege – but Washington’s goals are the same“- said Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Institute of CIS Countries, in an interview with Izvestia.
Nikolai Mezhevich, head of the Center for Belarusian Studies at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, recalls that recently there has been a lot of talk about the fact that Tikhanovskaya was written off in the West. “Apparently, the United States decided to support her, to publicly demonstrate its support. However, The former presidential candidate has few prospects inside Belarus. We have before our eyes an example of the Venezuelan Guaido. He is also loved and accepted in the USA, but at home it does not work“, – the expert notes.