Belarusian opposition leader meets Angela Merkel as protests continue

Kremlin rejects Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s call for international mediation to end crisis

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has discussed the political upheaval in her country with German chancellor Angela Merkel, as Russia insisted there was no need for foreign powers to act as mediators in the crisis.

Ms Tikhanovskaya has suggested that Germany, France and Russia could broker talks between the Belarusian opposition and the country's president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has faced the biggest protests of his 26-year rule since claiming to have secured a landslide win in a disputed election in August.

The EU and US denounced the conduct of the ballot and Mr Lukashenko’s declaration of victory, and have imposed sanctions on Belarusian officials with alleged responsibility for rigging the vote and for a crackdown on protesters in which at least three people have died, hundreds have been hurt and more than 12,000 detained.

During talks in Berlin on Tuesday, Ms Tikhanovskaya told Dr Merkel that the protests "are not a battle against Russia or Europe, but a consequence of a domestic Belarusian crisis. And the main aim of the people now is to hold new elections.


“It’s important to hold them in the near future, because for 26 years people [in Belarus] have lived under pressure and they are not willing to put up with it anymore,” she added, in a summary of the 45-minute meeting.

She also told the German leader that Belarus hoped for "investment support, and help for independent media and civic organisations to overcome the effects of the crisis".

Rejects dialogue

Mr Lukashenko rejects dialogue with the opposition, and claims the protests are organised by western powers that want to oust him and weaken Russia.

He has accused neighbouring EU and Nato states Poland and Lithuania of posing a military threat to his country, and he has received pledges of financial and security assistance from Moscow, which has told the West not to interfere in Belarusian affairs.

"The question is whether the legitimate leadership of Belarus needs any intermediaries," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.

“I do not know whether the leadership of Belarus would look for any mediators. And we hope that the situation in Belarus will reach a stabilisation point without the participation of any mediators.”

Recall its envoy

Poland and Lithuania have now withdrawn their ambassadors from Minsk, after Belarus announced late last week that it was recalling its envoys from Warsaw and Vilnius. Belarusian media reported that Germany was also expected to recall its envoy from Minsk in the near future.

"In co-ordination with the EU, we've made a joint decision to recall for consultations some of the ambassadors accredited to Belarus. I'd like to thank all EU partners for an unequivocal expression of solidarity with Poland and Lithuania," said Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau.

“Support for Belarusians and their efforts to democratise the country remains a priority to us,” he added.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe