“It won’t be the revolutionary force, unfortunately,” Franak Viačorka, an adviser to Tsikhanouskaya, told me. “If we want to win [against] Lukashenko, we need something bigger and something broader than just the workers’ movement.”
Could the U.S. be that something? When I posed the question to Viačorka, he said that Belarus was among the many countries missing a more proactive U.S. in global affairs. “We felt … abandoned,” he said, noting that although words of support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers were appreciated, they were a far cry from the type of involvement that much of the world might come to expect from the U.S. when faced with a dictator clinging to power.
Help could materialize in a number of ways, such as expanding sanctions to include Lukashenko (who has so far faced them only from the U.K. and the EU) and his closest allies; pledging financial support for free and independent media in Belarus (which, like the protesters, have faced violent repression), as well as allocating resources to striking workers and victims of Lukashenko’s crackdown; and joining the ranks of Paris and Berlin by extending an offer of mediation among Belarusian authorities, the opposition, and civil society. Although Tsikhanouskaya has been in touch with Biden’s team, Viačorka said she has yet to communicate with Biden or Vice President–elect Kamala Harris personally.
Apart from making some boilerplate comments about supporting democracy, Trump has largely remained silent on Belarus, leaving the work of speaking out in defense of democratic values to his subordinates. His tepid response could be attributed at least in part to the president’s desire not to appear at loggerheads with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has backed Lukashenko with a $1.5 billion loan and a pledge to intervene using Russian police forces if necessary. Trump’s behavior is nothing if not consistent, though: Although an American president might ordinarily be expected to uphold the democratic mantle, Trump’s unwillingness to accept the outcome of his own election defeat, paired with his evidence-deficient claims of voter fraud and his affinity for autocrats, makes him uniquely unqualified to do so.
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Any meaningful engagement from a Biden administration will likely have to wait until after the inauguration early next year. Still, the Belarusian opposition is hopeful. “With a more proactive president,” Viačorka said, “I think this support, this solidarity, will be enormous.”