Press Release

Welch, Durbin, Shaheen Meet with Belarusian Opposition Leader Svitlana Tshikanouskaya 

Jun 17, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C.U.S. Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.) last week joined Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Co-Chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus and member of the Free Belarus Caucus; and U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation and Co-Founder of the Free Belarus Caucus; to meet with Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to discuss efforts to push back against Belarus’s authoritarian leadership.  

In 2020, Tsikhanouskaya filled to run for the Belarusian Presidency on behalf of her jailed husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, who was abruptly arrested and sentenced to 18 years in prison on spurious charges of mass unrest and fueling social enmity. International observers assert Ms. Tshikanouskaya won the disputed election against Lukashenko, after which she was exiled from Belarus because of her activism.  Tsikhanouskaya continues the efforts for Belarusian democracy from Lithuania.   

During their meeting, the Senators and Tsikhanouskay spoke about Lukashenko’s support for Russia’s war on Ukraine by serving as a conduit for Russia’s military and avoidance of European Union sanctions. Most recently, Lukashenko reportedly also agreed to house Russian tactical nuclear weapons within Belarus.  

“It was a privilege to join my colleagues for a discussion with Belarusian Opposition Leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on Capitol Hill to hear about her remarkable work and advocacy for human rights, the rule of law, and democracy,” said Senator Welch. “We stand in solidarity with Belarusians in their battle against deeply entrenched authoritarianism and oppression, and support Ms. Tsikhanouskaya’s vision for a democratic, peaceful, and free Belarus.”  

“The Belarusian people have had enough of Lukashenko’s oppression and subservience to Putin as he ruthlessly attacks Ukraine,” said Senator Durbin. “As I reiterated in our meeting today, I fully support the aspirations of Belarusians to live in a democratic, sovereign, independent country. I stand in solidarity with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and the Belarusian people as they push back against Lukashenko, Europe’s last dictator, in hopes of a free Belarus.” 

“I was pleased to meet again with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Leader of the Belarus Democracy Movement who I have worked closely with to support all Belarusians advocating for a freer, more democratic future for their country,” said Senator Shaheen.  “There are more than 1500 political prisoners in Belarus, imprisoned simply for standing up to the autocratic Lukashenka regime which continues to support Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine. During our meeting, we discussed opportunities to elevate the plight of those fighting for freedom, and I reiterated my support for the difficult, necessary work of the pro-democracy movement to keep the flame of democracy alive in Belarus and around the world.”   

View photos from the event below:

Tsikhanouskaya is head of the United Transition Cabinet of Belarus who independent observers agree won the August 2020 presidential election against Lukashenko.  As the leader of the Belarusian democratic movement, she has visited 28 countries, gathering support and advocating for the release of more than 1,500 political prisoners and a peaceful transition of power through free and fair elections.   

She is a recipient of the Sakharov Prize awarded by the European Parliament, 2022 International Four Freedoms Award, and the Charlemagne Prize. In 2021 and 2022, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and Members of the Norwegian Parliament.