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Merkel-Lukashenko contact is strange: Belarus opposition

Published on November 22, 2021

Belarusian opposition head Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Monday appealed to EU ministers “to refrain from any contacts” with Belarus ruler Alexander Lukashenko, describing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s calls with him as “very strange”.

The West accuses Belarus of bringing in people mostly from the Middle East and taking them to areas along its borders with EU members Poland and Lithuania with promises of an easy crossing.

Last week Lukashenko and Merkel spoke by phone twice, discussing the migrant crisis and agreeing to maintain contact.

“I understand why it has been done… to de-escalate the situation at the borders, but as a Belarusian, from the side of the Belarusian people it looked very strange,” Tikhanovskaya told reporters at a conference on her country in Vienna.

The conference, hosted online by Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg because of Covid-19 restrictions, was attended by several foreign ministers including from Germany, Estonia and Poland.

Tikhanovskaya said all political prisoners must be released and violence ended before “real dialogue” could take place.

“Today I asked ministers to refrain from any contacts with the regime until these conditions are met. It would only strengthen the feeling of impunity,” she said.

She described sanctions and assistance to civil society as the only way forward.

– Lukashenko not recognised –

Dirk Schuebel, the head of the EU delegation to Belarus, said there was no question of bestowing legitimacy on Lukashenko.

He noted that the German statement on Merkel’s talks referred to “Herr” (“Mr.”) Lukashenko, not calling him president.

“We do not accept Lukashenko as president. We have made this very clear,” Schuebel told an online event of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

“We have been very clear also in our demands — that we demand new presidential elections, because we do not recognise these elections of August 2020.”

Addressing the same event, Julie Fisher, the US ambassador to Belarus who is based in adjacent Lithuania, said that Lukashenko’s ally Russia could be contributing to the migrant crisis due to its deployment of military forces near Ukraine, which has raised fears of Moscow’s intentions.

“We are concerned that the migrant crisis has diverted attention away from Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine and have urged our partners to keep a close eye on the region as well,” she said.

“Russian disinformation efforts use actions in Belarus such as the migrant crisis to stoke tensions and undermine European unity and transatlantic unity.”

Some 2,000 people hoping to reach Europe are stranded in Belarus.

The West accuses Minsk of engineering the crisis as revenge for sanctions slapped on Lukashenko’s regime after its brutal suppression of protests against his rule.

Belarus denies the claim, instead criticising the EU for not taking in the migrants.

The migrants say they want to get to Germany via Poland and Lukashenko has said that he is ready to send them there by plane if necessary.

Lukashenko said Monday that the European Union was refusing to discuss the fate of those stranded and he was waiting for the bloc to respond.