US envoy meets Belarusian opposition figurehead

US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun met with Belarusian opposition figurehead Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in Vilnius on Monday, August 24, ahead of a visit to Moscow, calling her "very impressive."

"I did have a chance to meet with Ms. Tikhanovskaya," Biegun said, speaking alongside Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius.

"She is a very impressive person and I can see why she is so popular in her country. The purpose of the meeting was to listen, to hear what the thinking is of the Belarusian people and to see what they are doing to obtain the right to self-determination," Biegun said.

"We believe there's an outcome here that can be acceptable to everyone," he said, adding however that "the United States cannot and will not decide the course of events in Belarus."

"This is the right of the Belarusian people."

Tikhanovskaya, a political novice, fled to neighboring Lithuania after running against President Alexander Lukashenko in an August 9 vote in which both claim victory.

There have since been unprecedented mass protests in the former Soviet republic calling for an end to Lukahsenko's 26-year rule.

Tikhanovskaya thanked the US for its support and said she was ready to resolve the crisis through a dialogue on the peaceful transfer of power.

"We have always said that we are willing to speak and are committed to a peaceful solution. We are open to the mediation of international organizations to facilitate the dialogue.

"Also, we demand an impartial investigation of the crimes committed by the Belarusian authorities against its people," she said.

Biegun is now due to visit Russia and Ukraine before holding talks on Thursday, August 27, in Vienna with representatives of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The EU and US have condemned a post-election crackdown in Belarus and Brussels is preparing sanctions. Russia is a longtime ally of Lukashenko and has expressed its support.

Vygaudas Usackas, a former EU ambassador to Russia, told Agence France-Presse earlier that Biegun's visit to the region "can be seen as readiness to play a role in resolution of the Belarusian crisis, including vis-a-vis Moscow." –