Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said Wednesday President Alexander Lukashenko would commit “political suicide” if he involved the Belarusian military in the war in neighboring Ukraine.
Tikhanovskaya claimed victory in Belarus’ contested 2020 presidential election but now lives in exile in Lithuania after Lukashenko cracked down on the opposition.
“If he gets our army to get involved (in Ukraine), that would be political suicide for him,” she told AFP news agency before speaking at the annual conference of Britain’s largest opposition party, Labor in Liverpool, north-west England.
“Even those who are for this regime (and) allies of Lukashenko are against the war in Ukraine.”
The 40-year-old dissident lashed out in “sham” annexation votes held this week by pro-Kremlin authorities in four Moscow-controlled regions of Ukraine, where officials have won overwhelming victories.
Tikhanovskaya said the votes – also condemned as “sham” by Kyiv and its western allies – were a false attempt by the Kremlin to “sell something to the Russian people as a victory” that would not find global recognition.
“Everyone has seen that the Kremlin’s army is not so powerful that the king is naked. So no normal country will recognize this referendum,” she added.
But heightened fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin could now use a tactical nuclear weapon to defend the annexed territories following recent threats are particularly strong in Belarus.
Tikhanovskaya noted that earlier this year Lukashenko successfully used his own “so-called referendum” to give him the legal means to plant Russian nuclear weapons in the country.
– “Catastrophe” –
“What worries us is that nuclear weapons can be launched from the territory of Belarus,” the opposition leader said.
“Perhaps our country can be misused for such nefarious purposes and of course it will be a disaster.”
However, Tikhanovskaya, who is seen by the West as the real winner of the August 2020 presidential election that kept Lukashenko in power, argued that this week’s referendums put the aging autocrat in a “difficult situation”.
Lukashenko is in a “very fragile position,” the opposition leader said, adding that Belarusian dissidents “are putting several pressure points on him.”
With Russian military activity in Belarus expected to increase following Putin’s recent partial mobilization, this resistance includes using back channels to speak to Belarusian military officials and “elite” figures.
“There will be (a) moment when the military, the KGB, will side with the Belarusian people,” she said, referring to the country’s Soviet-era internal security services.
“We communicate with the military. We communicate with the elite.
“It is our job to divide them by different means and we hope that at a certain moment everything will happen.
“You see that (the) policy of Lukashenko brings our country the loss of independence, the loss of sovereignty and the existence of our country is at stake.”