Putin needs Lukashenko in power to fight in Ukraine, Belarus opposition leader warns

Ms Tsikhanouskaya warned Russian President Vladimir Putin will be interested in keeping Lukashenko in power for as long as possible as he grants him “control over Belarus”. The Belarusian activist, who claims to have won the controversial presidential election held in her country in July 2020, also believes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would be thwarted if Putin was to lose the support of Belarus’ leadership. Ms Tsikhanouskaya told Express.co.uk: “Putin is interested in keeping Lukashenka as long as possible.

“Through Lukashenka, Putin has control over Belarus. And of course, Putin will be interested in preserving such control.

“Because without Belarus, the war against Ukraine becomes senseless for Putin, without Belarus Putin cannot achieve any results, only from Belarus he can reach Kyiv and other important cities.”

Ms Tsikhanouskaya spoke as speculation about Lukashenko’s health has been swirling after he missed a number of key public events and appeared unwell when he returned into the public eye after a five-day long absence.

Konstantin Zatulin, a senior member of the Russian Parliament, was quoted by a Russian publication called Podyom confirming Lukashenko had “fallen ill.”

However, he seemingly played down the politician’s health conditions, saying the Belarusian leader didn’t have Covid-19 and “probably needs a rest.”

Asked whether Lukashenko leaving office – for health reasons or because he is ousted – could boost Kyiv’s chances to triumph over Moscow, Ms Tsikhanouskaya said: “It will definitely impact the war and Putin’s capability.

“Putin doesn’t have enough resources to deal with both Ukraine and Belarus at the same time, and any development in Belarus will drain more 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 contribute to the victory of Ukraine – but also vice versa, successes in Ukraine, in the counter-offensive, can speed up processes in Belarus.

“The situation in Belarus is much more fragile and unstable than it might seem.”

The activist went on to claim Belarusian troops haven’t been deployed in Ukraine not because Lukashenko doesn’t want to get actively involved in the conflict but because people in the country are “against the war.”

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She added: “And in case of Lukashenka’s disappearance, these feelings will be even higher, Putin will not be able to make Belarusian soldiers join the Russian army.”

Ms Tsikhanouskaya said the work of people who, like her, are fighting for democracy in her country is to “be prepared” to any eventuality that may arise after the end of Lukashenko’s decades-long regime.

With Lukashenko no longer in power, she said, would come “a lot of risks but also a lot of opportunities”.

She explained: “If he disappears, dies, leaves the country, it will be the window of opportunity to take Belarus to democracy and get it out of Russia’s influence.

“Some groups inside the regime will be interested in taking power, Russia will be interested to put its own loyalists, but the last word must be of the Belarusians.

“We should talk to all groups within the regime to discuss the transition and new election, we must make sure that all political prisoners are immediately released, we must make sure that the international community acts quickly and decisively to prevent Russia from interfering.”

As noted by the activist, who stood for election in 2020 after her husband and previous main opposition candidate, Sergei Tikhanovsky, was arrested by Belarusian authorities months before the vote, Lukashenko has helped Putin throughout his full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Before the attack was launched in late February last year, Belarus allowed the Russian Armed Forces to perform weeks-long military drills and to eventually stage part of the invasion from its territory.

More than one year later, Putin continued to rely on Lukashenko’s support, as he announced his intention to place tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya hit out at Lukashenko’s acceptance of Putin’s plan to move nuclear arms to Belarus on the 37th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

In a statement shared on YouTube in April, she said Belarusians “learned the lesson and know what a nuclear disaster is about,” but “dictators did not”.

source: express.co.uk