Canada announces sanctions against Belarus as exiled opposition leader meets Trudeau

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Belarus’ exiled opposition leader – on her first official visit to Ottawa – got what she asked for before she even walked through the door on Tuesday. Canada has increased sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, targeting military and security services that aided Russia in its war against Ukraine.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s visit, however, highlighted how closely her opposition movement cooperates with Ukraine and how a Kyiv victory could inspire change in Belarus.

Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said in a statement that the Belarusian regime supports human rights abuses by allowing the country to serve as a launching pad for Russian attacks on Ukraine. Twenty-two other officials in Belarus are added to the sanctions list, including people involved in stationing and transporting Russian military personnel and equipment.

Sixteen other Belarusian companies – in the military, manufacturing, technology, engineering, banking and railway sectors – have also been hit with sanctions.

CBC News contacted Joly’s office, but did not receive a response.

Meeting with the Minister of Defense last weekend

Tsikhanouskaya – who was widely considered to have won Belarus’ 2020 presidential election – said on Monday the sanctions were among a number of items she planned to ask for in meetings over the next two days with Joly and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

She said she was also seeking non-lethal military aid for up to 500 Belarusians who are fighting as volunteers for Ukraine.

Tsikhanouskaya has already met with Defense Minister Anita Anand. The two men had a discussion at the Halifax International Security Forum last weekend.

“We don’t want the world to ignore Lukashenko’s involvement in this war,” Tsikhanouskaya told CBC News, referring to Lukashenko.

Lukashenko managed to hold on to power after the disputed election, even though the international community believes there was widespread voter fraud. Mass protests in Belarus against Lukashenko’s continued rule have been violently suppressed by the security services.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attend meetings in Saint Petersburg, Russia, December 20, 2019. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo/Associated Press)

Lukashenko has been a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the former Soviet republic is heavily dependent on Moscow, both politically and economically.

“I will ask Canada to consider imposing individual sanctions against propagandistic state military officials, KGB secret service employees and pro-regime businesses,” Tsikhanouskaya said.

“I don’t understand why many of these people who fuel Putin’s repression and war machine… are still able to travel to Europe.”

Strong military ties between Russia and Belarus

According to defense experts, there are numerous agreements between Russia and Belarus governing military cooperation. They include Russia’s use of the country as a springboard for the invasion of northern Ukraine, its use of a Belarusian radar facility and airbase, and a joint regional air defense system established in 2009.

Reports released earlier this month showed new satellite images suggesting thousands of Russian troops may have returned to Belarus. It has raised questions about the prospect of another push into Ukraine from the north – or an attempt by Moscow and Minsk to divert attention from Kyiv.

In this photo taken from a video released by the Russian Defense Ministry’s press service on November 12, Russian troops watch combat training at a Belarusian military firing range. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via Associated Press)

In October, Lukashenko ordered his own troops to deploy with Russian forces near Ukraine, saying there was a clear threat to Belarus from Kyiv and its supporters in the West.

Tsikhanouskaya said it was probably a distraction.

“If such [invasion] the order is made, we call on Belarusians to disobey, to refuse to carry out the orders,” she said. “We also called on Belarusians, call on your sons to join the anti-war movement.

Russia’s war on Ukraine is deeply unpopular among Belarusians, she said. A poll conducted by the Belarusian opposition, using the support of the Canadian government, shows that 86% of people in the country do not support the war.

Tsikhanouskaya, right, takes part in a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine outside the Russian Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania on March 4. (Mindaugas Kulbis/Associated Press)

Brian Whitmore, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, agreed that Putin’s invasion is unpopular in Belarus and has galvanized the public.

“It also sparked resistance among Belarusians, including the sabotage of railway lines to prevent Russian troops from reaching the front and a hacking campaign by a group calling itself the Cyber ​​Partisans,” Whitmore wrote in a post. recent opinion piece from Foreign Policy magazine.

Belarusian volunteers have also joined a Ukrainian paramilitary group called the Kastus Kalinouski Battalion, named after the leader of a 19th-century Belarusian uprising against the Russian Empire.

“We are looking for help for our military volunteers who are fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Ukrainians. Winter is coming and people need warm clothes…non-lethal material, medical aid. And this would be good to send such humanitarian aid to [a] Belarusian battalion in Ukraine,” Tsikhanouskaya said.

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