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Biden meets with Belarusian opposition leader at the White House

<i>The White House</i><br/>President Joe Biden met with Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya Wednesday.
The White House
President Joe Biden met with Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya Wednesday.

By Maegan Vazquez, CNN

President Joe Biden met with Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya Wednesday morning, as part of her larger campaign to ratchet up international pressure on the Lukashenko regime.

“I was honored to meet with @Tsihanouskaya at the White House this morning. The United States stands with the people of Belarus in their quest for democracy and universal human rights,” Biden tweeted, along with a photo of the two in conversation with masks.

In a subsequent tweet, the Tikhanovskaya thanked Biden “for a powerful sign of solidarity with millions of fearless Belarusians who are peacefully fighting for their freedom.”

As part of her larger tour around the US over the last two weeks, Tikhanovskaya has met with a number of administration officials, including White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power and US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) acting CEO Kelu Chao.

Bipartisan members of the newly formed “Friends of Belarus Caucus” said in a letter to Biden last month that he should meet with Tikhanovskaya, saying such a meeting would “send a message to Lukashenko, his allies, and the world that the United States will not tolerate such political repressions and state-sponsored violence that have taken place in Belarus.”

But Tikhanovskaya’s meeting the with President had not been previously confirmed. Two weeks ago, a senior administration official said “senior officials at the White House look forward to meeting Ms. Tsikhanouskaya next week when she is in Washington. The United States stands with her and the people of Belarus, and will continue to support their democratic aspirations.”

Tsikhanouskaya previously called on the administration to issue stronger sanctions, giving the Biden administration a specific list of entities to target. She said earlier this month that the list includes companies that are monopolized by the regime of Belarus’ strongman President Alexander Lukashenko “and his cronies,” including Belaruskali potash as well as oil, wood and steel enterprises.

Sanctions and support for civil society were brought up during her meeting with Blinken, she said, adding that there was an understanding “that there will be strong actions in the nearest future.”

Tikhanovskaya is a former teacher whose husband was jailed by the Lukashenko regime. She’s been living in exile in Lithuania after she opposed Lukashenko in their fraudulent 2020 presidential election.

The US and international community have taken a series of actions against the Lukashenko government in the wake of last August’s election, in which “Europe’s last dictator” refused to step down and initiated a violent and ongoing campaign of crackdowns on protesters, dissidents and journalists in Belarus.

In June, the US, European Union, United Kingdom and Canada imposed sanctions on Belarus in a coordinated response to the Lukashenko government’s forced landing of a Ryanair flight and arrest of an opposition journalist last month as well as the “continuing repression” in the former Soviet state.

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CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, DJ Judd and Radina Gigova contributed to this report.

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