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US presidential hopeful Biden turns focus to Belarus, vows to sanction ‘Lukashenko regime henchmen’ until Minsk turns ‘democratic’

US presidential hopeful Biden turns focus to Belarus, vows to sanction ‘Lukashenko regime henchmen’ until Minsk turns ‘democratic’
Democrat candidate for US president Joe Biden has called for regime change in Minsk, denouncing President Alexander Lukashenko’s “brutal dictatorship” and vowing to sanction his “henchmen” until there’s a “democratic Belarus.”

“I continue to stand with the people of Belarus and support their democratic aspirations,” Biden said, claiming that President Donald Trump “refuses to speak out on their behalf.”

Biden said that “No leader who tortures his own people can ever claim legitimacy” and demanded that “the international community should significantly expand its sanctions on Lukashenka’s henchmen and freeze the offshore accounts where they keep their stolen wealth.”

The Belarus statement was among a flurry of press releases by Biden’s campaign on Tuesday, and a rare foray into the subject of foreign policy. The Democrat has generally avoided the subject during the campaign, focusing his attacks on Trump on the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Lukashenko, who has been president since 1994, was awarded a convincing victory in the August 9 election, by election organisers. The opposition claims the results were rigged. 

Official runner-up Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, whom Biden endorsed in the statement, supposedly received about 10 percent of the vote. She has since fled to the neighboring Lithuania and reached out to EU countries for support, calling for a general strike to pressure Lukashenko into annulling the election they claim was “rigged.”

Police in Belarus forcefully dispersed demonstrations on Sunday, prompting some Biden supporters to demand “a plan for Belarus.” 

While the EU, UK and Canada have imposed sanctions on Belarussian officials and openly sided with Tikhanovskaya in denouncing the “rigged” election, the Trump administration has been more diplomatic. 

Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun met with Tikhanovskaya in Lithuania at the end of August, but said his job was “to listen, to hear what the thinking of the Belarusian people is and to see what they are doing to obtain the right to self-determination.” 

“The United States cannot and will not decide the course of events in Belarus,” Biegun said at the time.

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This stands in stark contrast with the Trump administration’s strategy for Venezuela, which Biden’s Belarus plan appears to mirror. Vowing to stand with the Venezuelan people in their pursuit of democracy, Washington endorsed opposition figure Juan Guaido as “interim president” of that Latin American country in January 2019, lining up the Organization of American States and even the EU in support. 

However, Guaido has repeatedly failed to seize power in Caracas, leaving the government of President Nicolas Maduro more entrenched than ever. Meanwhile, the US-imposed sanctions – ostensibly targeting Maduro’s “regime” – have made lives miserable for the vast majority of Venezuelans, as even think tanks supporting the policy have noted.

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