US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun is set to meet with Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Lithuania on Monday. Since the August 9th presidential election in Belarus, the US and EU have rejected the results and called for a fresh round.
Tsikhanouskaya is the main Belarus opposition leader who fled to Lithuania shortly after the vote, citing fear of arrest. Official results of the August 9th election gave the incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko about 80 percent of the votes and about ten percent to Tsikhanouskaya. Lukashenko’s opposition says the vote was rigged and illegitimate.
Protests for new elections continue in Belarus, with tens of thousands marching in Minsk on Sunday. The visit from Biegun, who’s second only to Mike Pompeo in the State Department, shows the high level of US support for the opposition in Belarus. Biegun will stop in Lithuania on his way to Moscow.
Lukashenko fears outside forces are working to oust him, and claims NATO is building troops on Belarus’ border. NATO denies any military buildup on Belarus’ border and says the alliance is strictly defensive. Belarus borders three NATO countries to its west; Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Russia has pledged military support for Lukashenko if it is necessary to keep the president in power.
Last week, the EU announced a plan to impose sanctions on individuals in Belarus over claims of election fraud. The EU also reiterated its call for a new round of elections.