The presence of tens of thousands of Russian troops inside Belarus, which the West fears will be used to invade Ukraine, represent a menace for the independence of Belarus, the country’s exiled opposition leader said on Wednesday.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who the West believes it was the true winner of the August 2020 presidential elections that retained autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko in power told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that son country now had to fight “for our independence” as well as “against dictatorship.”
She also Express horror that a referendum in Belarus this weekend could give Lukashenko the legal means of house Russian nuclear weapons in the country.
Lukashenko was willing to sacrifice the country’s sovereignty because he was ‘grateful’ for of the Kremlin support in the aftermath of the 2020 vote which provoked mass protests, Tsikhanouskaya said, who live now in Lithuania.
“We want to be friends with our neighbors but not us want be the annex of another country,” she said during a visit to Paris.
“We see that our independence is now threatened… We see the menace of a slow occupation of our country.”
Tsikhanouskaya said she believed there were now some 30,000 Russian troops in Belarus – apparently there for carry out military drills – as well as even more units of military Equipment.
“Lukashenko was supported by the Kremlin and now he shows his loyalty to the Kremlin – he is grateful for the support he got, and now he gives land for military exercises for show that loyalty,” she said.
“But it’s not in our national interest. people don’t want these troops on our lands, we want to be a country that is an aggressor for our Ukrainian brothers.”
the military the exercises had to end last weekend but Minsk then announced that the troops were going remain carry out more maneuvers for an indefinite period.
The Ukrainian capital of Kyiv lies just 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of the Belarusian border, while northern Ukraine city of Chernihiv is only 60 kilometers (40 miles) to the east of Belarus.
“Threat to Europe”
Tsikhanouskaya urged Western powers to denounce the February 27 referendum on constitutional reform called for by Lukashenko, who has been in power for almost three decades and is accused of brutally suppressing the 2020 post- electoral demonstrations.
Opposition activists say there are now over 1,000 political prisoners in Belarus.
Tsikhanouskaya said the most concerning aspect of the referendum was proposed changes to the neutrality of Belarus which allow that to house Russian nuclear weapons.
“This shows us where Lukashenko wants to go. he can use our territory for nuclear weapons and it will be a huge menace for Europe,” she said.
Lukashenko had already raised earlier this month the prospect that Belarus could harbor nuclear weapons.
“All countries must declare that they do not accept any result of this referendum, it is illegitimate. If something arrive with a nuclear weapon, Lukashenko will bear all the responsibility,” she said.
“We want be neutral,” she added, noting that the presence of Russian troops in Belarus also represented a risk for Lukashenko, who was dependent on the Kremlin rather than popular support to stay in power.
“The illegitimate ruler understands that it is also a menace for himself,” she said. “He is weak and he can also to think that one day when the Kremlin need him they can get rid of of him.”