France pledged on Friday, to impose sanctions on Minsk for siding with Moscow in its military intervention in Ukraine, the French stance was issued as it hosted Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
Ahead of a constitutional referendum to be held in Belarus on Sunday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian received Tikhanovskaya in Paris, vowing to sanction the Belarusian regime for its “complicity” in Russia’s operation in Ukraine, Le Drian said on Twitter.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the operation early on Thursday, days after recognizing two breakaway enclaves — Donetsk and Luhansk — in eastern Ukraine, drawing international condemnation and vows of tougher sanctions on Moscow.
On the first day of the operation, during which several tanks reportedly crossed the border with Belarus into Ukraine, more than 130 people, including civilians, were killed, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Moscow has also reportedly deployed tens of thousands of troops in Belarus, though President Alexander Lukashenko, a close Putin ally, has denied that the country’s armed forces were taking part in Russia’s military operation.
In a video statement on Twitter, Tikhanovskaya appealed to Belarus’s Defense Ministry, general staff, and security council, urging them “not to become accomplices” in “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.”
“Lukashenka (Lukashenko) jeopardizes our sovereignty while supporting Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The officers have every legitimate reason not to become accomplices of this aggression,” she said.
In Paris, she also met with Gerard Larcher, the president of the French Senate, to discuss “possible sanctions on the (Belarusian) regime as accomplices in Russia’s assault.”
The opposition leader and human rights activist also joined an anti-war protest at Place de la Republique in Paris on Thursday evening. Addressing Belarusian and Russian nationals in France, she said: “Our nations should never attack each other. Let me assure you Belarusians will do everything possible to bring peace & freedom to our countries.”
Tikhanovskaya had led a huge protest movement and faced off with Lukashenko in the country’s 2020 presidential elections as the sitting president’s main rival.
Lukashenko, who had ruled Belarus for 26 years at the time, officially won the election with 80.1% of votes, though Tikhanovskaya claimed she won the majority of votes.
She was forced to flee to Lithuania after Lukashenko declared himself president for the sixth time and unleashed a crackdown.
France, alongside the EU and US, has imposed sanctions and does not recognize the legitimacy of Lukashenko’s administration.
Minsk is holding a referendum to validate proposed changes to the country’s constitution initially meant to pave the way for new presidential elections. However, critics say that once the new constitution comes into force, it will further strengthen the position of Lukashenko and officials in his government until the end of his current term in 2025.