French President Emmanuel Macron has promised Europe’s help in mediating the political crisis in Belarus after meeting with opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Lithuania.
“We will do our best as Europeans to help mediate,” Macron told reporters in Vilnius on September 29 after the meeting, pledging “pragmatic” European support for the Belarusian people.
He has called for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to handle mediation on Belarus, which has seen weeks of mass demonstrations triggered by a disputed August 9 presidential election.
Tsikhanouskaya said the French president “promised us to do everything to help with negotiations [during] this political crisis in our country…and he will do everything to help to release all the political prisoners.”
Sources in Macron’s office said the meeting at a hotel lasted 35 minutes, according to dpa.
Speaking to AFP, Tsikhanouskaya said, “We have received an invitation to speak before the French parliament and we have accepted it.”
Macron is the highest-profile Western leader to visit Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania amid a crackdown on protesters by long-ruling strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka following the presidential election.
Lukashenka claims he won the vote, but the opposition has held mass rallies to protest the results, saying Tsikhanouskaya is the winner.
The Interior Ministry said more than 350 people were detained during nationwide protests on September 27, bringing the total number of detentions over the weekend to about 500.
Western governments have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have called on him to negotiate a transfer of power, which Lukashenka refuses to do.
He was secretly sworn in on September 23, sparking outrage at home and abroad.
Under increasing pressure from the street and the West, Lukashenka has leaned on neighboring Russia for political and economic support.
In a video message for the participants of the Forum of Regions of Russia and Belarus on September 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Belarus was in a “difficult situation” and facing “unprecedented external pressure.”
Ahead of his three-day trip to Lithuania and neighboring Latvia, Macron said it was clear that Lukashenka “has to go” after 26 years in power.
He also said he was impressed with the courage of the protesters
“The protests are not going to stop,” the 38-year-old Tsikhanouskaya said in an interview with AFP, adding that Belarus “badly needs” a dialogue between government and opposition in order to ensure there is “no more blood.”
Macron, speaking in Vilnius on September 28, insisted that Europe should cooperate with Russia to build peace in Europe.
“The way we see things is that if we want to build peace on the European continent, we need to work with Russia,” Macron said in a news conference.
“I say this on a soil which has lived through the worst, which has endured oppression, which has endured deaths. But we can’t do as if Europe was an island far away from Russia,” Macron added.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusians take to the streets to demand the resignation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and call for new elections after official results from the August 9 presidential poll gave Lukashenka a landslide victory.
Over the past year, Macron has tried to reduce distrust between Russia and the West. But the efforts have upset other EU governments, particularly those that escaped Moscow’s orbit after the Cold War. They say little has changed to merit a thaw in relations.
Other European Union leaders have called on Macron to review his stance toward Moscow since the poisoning of Aleksei Navalny, a longtime critic of Putin.
German doctors found traces of a nerve agent in Navalny’s body and his allies accuse the Kremlin of being behind the poisoning.
Moscow denies the accusation but has resisted pressure to launch a criminal investigation.