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U.S. envoy to Belarus says crackdowns won't keep Lukashenko in power

by Reuters
Thursday, 22 April 2021 12:13 GMT

By Andrius Sytas

VILNIUS, April 22 (Reuters) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is unlikely to remain in power for long if he continues to crack down on opponents, the U.S. ambassador to Minsk said on Thursday.

Speaking before talks between Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Ambassador Julie Fisher also said Washington was concerned that Belarus had become more dependent on Moscow since mass protests began last August.

Russia rallied behind Lukashenko after demonstrators took to the streets when he was declared the winner of an Aug. 9 presidential election which opponents said was rigged.

Thousands of people were detained, and most opposition figures went into exile or were jailed before the protests dwindled.

Fisher said it was unlikely Lukashenko's presidency would last if he did not talk to the Belarusian people.

"It seems hard to imagine that that can continue in the near term," she told Reuters during a visit to Lithuania to meet Belarus democracy activists.

"The protest dynamics have changed the credibility of the regime in Belarus. I don't believe that any government that stands in defiance of the will of the people, that so blatantly ignores the will of the people, is sustainable."

Moscow sees Belarus, a former Soviet republic, as a buffer against the European Union and NATO.

"What we observe is that dial continuing to move away from Belarus sovereignty and independence, and that is something that concerns the United States of America," Fisher said.

Washington named Fisher as ambassador to Belarus in December, a post vacant since 2008, but she has not yet presented credentials in Minsk.

"We think there is tremendous economic opportunity in Belarus for the West. But under the current conditions it's very difficult to imagine how that could move forward," Fisher said. (Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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