Durbin, Shaheen, Welch Meet With Head Of Belarusian Opposition Leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Co-Chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus and member of the Free Belarus Caucus; U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation and Co-Founder of the Free Belarus Caucus; and U.S. Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) today met with Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to discuss her efforts to push back against Belarusia’s strongman leadership by Alexander Lukashenko.  In 2020, Tsikhanouskaya likely won the disputed election against Lukashenko after filling in for her jailed husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, who was competing in the election only to be abruptly arrested by Lukashenko’s regime and sentenced to 18 years on sham charges.  Exiled from Belarus because of her activism, Tsikhanouskaya is continuing the effort for Belarusian democracy from Lithuania. 

During their meeting, the Senators and Tsikhanouskaya spoke about Lukashenko’s support for Vladimir Putin in Russia’s war in Ukraine by serving as a conduit for Russia’s military and to avoid European Union sanctions.  Most recently, Lukashenko reportedly also agreed to house Russian tactical nuclear weapons within Belarus’ borders.

“The Belarusian people have had enough of Lukashenko’s oppression and subservience to Putin as he ruthlessly attacks Ukraine,” said Durbin. “As I reiterated in our meeting today, I fully support the aspirations of Belarusians to live in a democratic, sovereign, independent country.  I stand in solidarity with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and the Belarusian people as they push back against Lukashenko, Europe’s last dictator, in hopes of a free Belarus.”

“I was pleased to meet again with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Leader of the Belarus Democracy Movement who I have worked closely with to support all Belarusians advocating for a freer, more democratic future for their country,” said Shaheen.  “There are more than 1500 political prisoners in Belarus, imprisoned simply for standing up to the autocratic Lukashenka regime which continues to support Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine. During our meeting, we discussed opportunities to elevate the plight of those fighting for freedom, and I reiterated my support for the difficult, necessary work of the pro-democracy movement to keep the flame of democracy alive in Belarus and around the world.”  

“It was a privilege to join my colleagues for a discussion with Belarusian Opposition Leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on Capitol Hill to hear about her remarkable work and advocacy for human rights, the rule of law, and democracy,” said Welch. “We stand in solidarity with Belarusians in their battle against deeply entrenched authoritarianism and oppression, and support Ms. Tsikhanouskaya’s vision for a democratic, peaceful, and free Belarus.”

Photos of the meeting are available here.

In December, Durbin and Shaheen introduced the Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act at the urging of Tsikhanouskaya.  The legislation condemns the Lukashenko regime’s support for Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and recognizes Tsikhanouskaya as the rightful democratic leader of Belarus while also calling for a return to free and fair elections and for oberserver status for the Belarus democracy movement at international institutions.  The bill also includes provisions to support a free and independent media environment in Belarus and accountability for Lukashenko’s role in the Russian war in Ukraine.

Durbin has repeatedly called for the release of Sergei Tikhanovsky among other political prisoners who have been jailed for speaking out against Lukashenko’s regime or Putin’s unjustified war in Ukraine.  

Tsikhanouskaya is head of the United Transition Cabinet of Belarus who independent observers agree won the August 2020 presidential election against Lukashenko.  As the leader of the Belarusian democratic movement, she has visited 28 countries, gathering support and advocating for the release of more than 1,500 political prisoners and a peaceful transition of power through free and fair elections. 

She is a recipient of the Sakharov Prize awarded by the European Parliament, 2022 International Four Freedoms Award, and Charlemagne Prize. In 2021 and 2022, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and Members of the Norwegian Parliament.