Belarus opposition leader placed on Russia’s wanted list

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who took refuge in Lithuania, is ‘wanted on a criminal charge’, Russian interior ministry says.

Belarus has not announced Tikhanovskaya as wanted [Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP]

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has been placed on Russia’s wanted list, the country’s interior ministry has said.

The 38-year-old, who took refuge in European Union member Lithuania following her claim to have beaten long-running leader Alexander Lukashenko in August elections, is “wanted on a criminal charge,” the Russian interior ministry told AFP on Wednesday.

The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that Tikhanovskaya faces a charge in Belarus of making public calls to harm the country’s security, including calls to seize power.

Russian news agencies cited law enforcement sources as saying that her listing appeared automatically due to Moscow’s commitments as part of a “union state” with neighbouring Belarus.

Belarus has not announced Tikhanovskaya as wanted, however.

Belarusian interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova told the country’s independent news site, “So far, I don’t have information that I could tell you.”

Tikhanovskaya’s campaign office told the Russian Interfax news agency: “We don’t know about this. Svetlana did not receive any messages. But this is actually of little interest [to us].”

Numerous key allies of Tikhanovskaya have been detained on the charge of making public calls to harm the country’s security or driven out of the country by threats from the authorities.

Huge crowds have gathered for protests every weekend in Belarus since the elections, despite harsh police tactics including the use of tear gas and water cannon, supporting Tikhanovskaya’s call for new elections to be held according to international standards.

Putin as ‘mediator’

A political novice until her campaign to end Lukashenko’s 26-year rule brought thousands out onto the streets of Belarus, Tikhanovskaya has recently met European leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Speaking in Berlin on Wednesday, she said it was not up to Putin to decide the fate of her country but added that she would welcome his involvement in mediating the political crisis.

“We don’t want to say that Putin has to decide how to solve our problems. This is our internal problem,” she told reporters in the German parliament’s lower house, the Bundestag.

“We want to invite him to be a mediator,” she said in English.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday the Russian leader, who has strongly backed Lukashenko, had no plans to meet her.

“No contacts are being planned,” Peskov told reporters.

“Tikhanovskaya is not in Belarus. One can hardly say that she is somehow involved in Belarus’s life.

“She is meeting with various heads of state and government who consider Belarus’s sitting president illegitimate.”

The EU and the United States have refused to recognise Lukashenko’s inauguration as president last month, citing rigged polls.

EU leaders have approved sanctions against Belarus officials but not against Lukashenko himself, prompting Belarus to announce counter-sanctions against unnamed officials.

Tikhanovskaya, an English teacher by training, is campaigning against Lukashenko despite the Belarusian authorities holding her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, a popular opposition blogger, in prison in pre-trial detention.

She sent the couple’s two young children abroad before her own departure.

Source: AFP