Addressing rumours that Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko had been poisoned, popular opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya threw a spanner into the gossip mill – but said that her longtime ‘enemy’ is far from a picture of health.
Following a closed-door meeting with Vladimir Putin last month, the self-proclaimed president of Belarus was rushed to a Moscow hospital, allegedly in a ‘critical condition’.
While wild speculation began mounting on social media, opposition figure Valery Tsepkalo, along with a number of influential yet unreliable social media commentators, circulated a conspiracy theory that Lukashenko had been poisoned.
“Blood purification procedures have been conducted, and Lukashenko’s condition has been deemed non-transportable. The orchestrated efforts to save the Belarusian dictator aimed to dispel speculations regarding Kremlin’s alleged involvement in his poisoning,” Tsepkalo wrote on Twitter.
However, the Lukashenko himself addressed his absence from public life on May 23, attributing it to an illness.
“Adenovirus or whatever it was? Adenovirus. It’s nothing… But since I didn’t have the opportunity to receive treatment… all of it accumulated,” he said.
“So I’m not planning to die, guys. You’ll be tormenting yourselves with me for a very long time.”
While the exact nature of Lukashenko’s illness remains a mystery, adenoviruses is known to be accompanied with a range of symptoms, from acute respiratory infections to life-threatening complications in individuals with weakened immune systems.
Speaking exclusively to VoteWatch, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya opened up about the rumours relating to Lukashenko’s health.
Following what Human Rights Watch referred to as the “political arrest” of her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya decided to run in the 2020 presidential election in Belarus. Since then, she has earned international respect and received no less than two nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The outspoken politician opted to run in lieu of her husband who – in an attack against democracy – had been disqualified from running, and despite severe threats from the government and the sexist assertion made by Lukashenko that Belarus wasn’t ready for a female leader.
Undeterred, Tsikhanouskaya pressed on with her campaign, gaining support from a nation tired of oppression – yet had the election stolen from her by Lukashenko’s regime via a campaign of intimidation and electoral fraud.
Do you believe the rumours regarding Lukashenko’s health are true?
Tsikhanouskaya: “I think everyone can see that Lukashenka is not healthy. We see how he looks, how he speaks. What is his diagnosis — we don’t know; but it’s clear he’s getting weaker and weaker.
“After six days of disappearance, he came back. To be honest, I am more worried about the health of political prisoners than I am about the dictator. Many political prisoners have disappeared for months – we don’t know where they are or under which condition. And unlike the dictator, they are not provided with proper medical care. They deserve our attention, not the dictator.”
Have you had any inside knowledge/intelligence indicating Lukashenko is seriously ill?
Tsikhanouskaya: “We don’t have any knowledge beyond that which is apparent for everyone to see. In a dictatorship, the health of the tyrant is a state secret, because the dictator builds a cult around himself that is based on invincibility. Now we see that this illusion is falling apart and I think it makes him even more afraid.”
What do you think will happen if he dies? Will you return?
“The situation with the health of Lukashenko galvanized the discussion in society about what comes after him. When something happens to the dictator, it creates a lot of risks, but also a lot of opportunities for us. If he disappears, dies, or leaves the country, we will have the window of opportunity to turn Belarus to democracy and get it out of Russian influence.
“Some groups inside the regime will be interested in taking power. The current constitution doesn’t give a clear answer what will happen when Lukashenka is out of the office. So it would be decided in negotiations, and we, as democratic forces, we have to be prepared for these negotiations.
“I am ready to talk to everyone who sees Belarus as democratic and independent country. Russia will be interested to put in its own loyalist. But the last word must be from Belarusians. We should talk to all groups within the regime, to discuss the transition and new elections. We must make sure that all political prisoners are immediately released. We must make sure the international community acts quickly to prevent Russia from interfering.
“We will have the right to ask for international peacekeepers if the situation deteriorates, to make sure new free and fair elections take place.”
What are your views regarding speculation that Lukashenko was poisoned during his meeting with Putin – do you think it’s even remotely possible?
Tsikhanouskaya: “There are rumors that after his last visit to Moscow, he was hospitalised. But we did not confirm that. According to our sources, he came back to Minsk from Moscow.
“It seems that Lukashenka is irritated by such discussions. It was always a taboo to speak about his health and life after him. We have seen that Lukashenka was forced to go to Moscow on May 9 despite his apparent ill health. It shows that he how he lost control to Russia.”
What are your overall views of Lukashenko and, in particular, his involvement in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
“Lukashenka must be brought to the tribunal to be held accountable for his crimes against the people of Belarus and Ukraine. He has been in power for almost 30 years in Belarus and the list of his crimes is enormous. Now it also includes his complicity in crimes against Ukraine.
“We have evidence that the regime of Lukashenka participated in abduction of Ukrainian kids. Ukrainian orphans were deported from occupied territories to Belarus. Our count is that at least 2000 were brought to Belarus. They were placed in different facilities and sanatoriums, including ones connected to potash-producer Belaruskali. We ask International Criminal Court to launch the proceeding, and issue the arrest warrant on Lukashenka like it was done with Putin. We also ask the EU to consider sanctions against Lukashenka’s regime now for abduction of kids, for crimes against humanity, for complicity in war.
What are you offering Belarus as an alternative to the current regime?
“Belarus is fully dependent on Russia now. Russia was building its control over Belarus through decades. This dependence led to Belarus’ isolation, and put in danger our nation and the every existence of our country. We are offering a European alternative of freedom and democracy. We should leave the Belarus-Russia Union State, the CSTO, and all the deals with Russia that undermine our sovereignty.
“Belarus historically belonged to the European family, and we should bring it back to where it truly belongs.”