Tensions escalated Tuesday over the crisis in Belarus, as Canada and Britain decided to impose sanctions, while Vladimir Putin protested against “unprecedented external pressure.”
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Visiting Lithuania, French President Emmanuel Macron, who in the morning met the leader of the Belarusian opposition Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, for his part recalled that the European Union was also preparing punitive measures against the regime in place in Belarus.
The United Kingdom announced the same day sanctions, taken in coordination with Canada, targeting eight Belarusian officials including President Alexander Lukashenko, due to the repression of the protest movement in this former Soviet republic.
“Europe is putting itself in a position to exert pressure, through sanctions that we will have to take in the coming days and weeks”, declared Mr. Macron during a debate with the students at the University of Vilnius , “Our ministers have prepared lists”.
“This is a way of putting pressure on the leaders of a system that is now at the end of its line to get it to move,” he added.
Earlier, the French head of state explained that he was supporting “all civil society” against President Alexander Lukashenko, who is not recognized by the EU, Canada or the United States. United, but supported by Moscow.
Mr. Macron called for international mediation to organize a new presidential election, controlled by the international community, after that of August deemed fraudulent by the Belarusian opposition and Western countries. “We will do our best as Europeans to help with the mediation” which the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) “will firmly lead.
“The goal is a peaceful transition, the release of those who remain in prison for their political opinions and the holding of elections in a free environment, under international surveillance,” he said.
Belarus has been in turmoil since the August 9 election, in which Ms Tikhanovskaya claimed victory over Alexander Lukashenko, head of state since 1994.
The opponent fled to Lithuania the day after the polls, as mass demonstrations in the streets of the former Soviet republic were quelled, resulting in thousands of arrests.
The European Union refused to recognize the result of the presidential election and, for Mr. Macron, as he said on Sunday, Alexander Lukashenko “must go”.
In this context, the visit of the French president, on the occasion of his trip to Lithuania, to the Rukla NATO base, where 1,200 NATO soldiers are based, including 300 French, had a particular resonance.
“This is also where security is played out, on the borders of Europe. Thank you for protecting our common borders, ”said Mr. Macron. “Through this mission, you will allow you to demonstrate France’s commitment to NATO and to the security of Europeans. At these borders of our Europe, the risks are great, the news shows it again, “he told the military, alluding to tensions with Russia.
Tuesday’s meeting with the French president is the most significant diplomatic support Ms. Tikhanovskaïa has received since the disputed election.
The opponent has already met the foreign ministers of EU member states and the leaders of Poland and Lithuania, two neighboring states of Belarus.
” As soon as possible ”
New to politics, Tikhanovskaïa, whose husband remains in prison in Belarus on charges of trying to overthrow the government, told AFP that she accepted an invitation to speak to the French parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
According to her, the crisis should be settled “as soon as possible” and a new free and fair ballot organized before the end of the year.
Mr. Macron “supports the idea of mediation because he understands that powerful countries must be involved to start negotiations with Lukashenko. He is ready to help on this point, “said the opponent.
“I think he will talk about Belarus with the Russian side and do everything possible to involve Russia in these negotiations,” she added.
According to Macron, Vladimir Putin, the main ally of the Belarusian strongman, is in favor of OSCE mediation.
However, the Russian president said Tuesday that this former Soviet republic was in a “difficult situation” and faced “unprecedented external pressure”.
The Kremlin chief said Moscow was ready to stand by Minsk’s side, describing their ties as “timeless and weatherproof”.
Mr. Putin pledged to provide Belarus with security assistance and granted a loan of 1.5 billion dollars.