If the route to ultimately toppling Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko goes through Moscow, as most serious analysts believe, then Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, runner up in this month’s disputed election, has taken a considerable diversion.
On Monday, in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, she met with US Deputy Secretary of State, Stephen Biegun in a move that will have raised concern in the Kremlin. Russia has been asking Western states to keep out of the situation in Belarus, which is Moscow’s chief military and political ally.
In a statement, the State Department said Biegun had discussed “strengthening democracy and human rights in the country” with Tikhanovskaya in Vilnius. The bulletin described her as “opposition leader” and continued by “affirming the US commitment to Belarus’ sovereignty and territorial integrity and to the sovereign right of its people to elect their own leaders and determine their own future.”
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Biegun also met with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis, and other officials to “discuss the situation in Belarus, countering threats posed by Russia and China, and the promotion of human rights and democracy.”
Biegun is also due to visit Russia and Ukraine this week.
Belarus has been hit by mass protests, and sporadic violence, since the disputed August 9 presidential election. Protesters have challenged the outcome of the vote. During the first day of riots they clashed with police and over 6,000 people were detained, with dozens of police officers and protesters injured. According to the contested official result from the Central Election Commission, incumbent Lukashenko won 80% of the vote and Tikhanovskaya was second with 10%. She did not recognize the outcome and fled to Lithuania.
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