Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks as Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne looks on during a press conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mindaugas Kulbis

Belarus’s exiled opposition leader holds Canada in her heart, Champagne says

Belarus’s exiled opposition leader holds Canada in her heart, Champagne says

OTTAWA — The exiled opposition leader of Belarus holds Canada in her heart for its support of her embattled country’s pro-democracy movement, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Friday after meeting her.

Champagne met with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, where she fled following an August presidential election that Canada and its allies have called fraudulent.

It was their fifth conversation but first face-to-face meeting since she sought refuge after rallying support against the authoritarian leader of her country, President Alexander Lukashenko, who claimed a sixth term in office in August in a widely discredited election.

Champagne first called Tsikhanouskaya in August, and has since worked with his British counterpart, Dominic Raab to level sanctions against Lukashenko, his family and ministers in response to their violent clampdown on the pro-democracy movement that has taken root in Belarus.

Champagne said that Tsikhanouskaya told him Canada’s early support was

“pivotal” in her efforts to keep fighting for democracy.

“It was a very special moment. Sometimes you do things and you don’t fully appreciate the impact,” Champagne said in a teleconference from Vilnius.

“I think she holds Canada and our intervention very high in her heart because we were there since Day 1, and we have been consistently engaging with her, engaging with the movement, supporting them at every step of the way.”

The U.S. and the European Union have also denounced the election as neither free nor fair, and introduced sanctions against the officials they say are responsible for vote-rigging and a subsequent crackdown on protests.

Top European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have also met with Tsikhanouskaya.

This was the first visit to Lithuania by a Canadian foreign minister in 24 years.

Champagne wrapped a four-country European tour that focused on major continental security issues such as Belarus, the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh and the maritime boundary dispute between Turkey and Greece.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also working the phones Friday in support of Champagne’s efforts in Europe to bring the Azerbaijani and Armenian combatants in Nagorno-Karabakh to the negotiating table.

Trudeau planned to deliver that message to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well. Turkey supports Azerbaijan in its fight with Armenia over an area a little smaller than Prince Edward Island that’s internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but with an ethnic Armenian majority.

Trudeau also spoke Friday with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to offer his support.

Tensions between Canada and Turkey, a NATO ally, are also high because the Trudeau government suspended military export permits to Turkey earlier this month. Champagne ordered an investigation into whether a targeting sensor made by an Ontario company and sold to Turkey is being used in Azerbaijani drones in attacks against Armenian civilians.

Champagne travelled to Greece earlier this week and has agreed to help mediate a solution to its standoff with Turkey over a disputed maritime boundary in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions have risen in that dispute this week after Turkey deployed a research ship, Oruc Reis, into the disputed waters.

“Canada was at the heart of all the key discussions in Europe this week,” said Champagne.

“You will see Canada being more engaged with a number of countries of the European Union to tackle some of these very complex issues and the flashpoints we have seen emerging.”

From Lithuania, Tsikhanouskaya has warned the government in Minsk that she will call a countrywide strike in Belarus later this month unless Lukashenko resigns, releases political prisoners and stops his government’s violent crackdown on protesters.

On Friday, Belarusian authorities announced they had issued an arrest warrant for Tsikhanouskaya, accusing her of “attempts to overthrow constitutional order” and threatening Belarus’ national security.

The announcement followed reports that she was on the wanted list in Russia. Moscow has staunchly backed Lukashenko through two months of protests that denounced the election as rigged. Moscow has refused to talk to Tsikhanouskaya or other opposition activists.

Champagne also met his counterparts from Lithuania and its Baltic neighbours to the north — Estonia and Latvia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2020.

— with files from The Associated Press

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

foreign affairs

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Hub on Ross has announced it has permanently closed. (Photo courtesy The Hub on Ross Facebook page)
The Hub on Ross in Red Deer to permanently close

The Hub on Ross in Red Deer permanently closed on Wednesday. “The… Continue reading

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

The Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House reopened earlier this month, after closing in March due to the pandemic. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House reopens

The Red Deer Senior Citizens Downtown House was closed for months due… Continue reading

Guy Pelletier, vice-president of the Red Deer region for Melcor Developments. (Contributed photo).
Melcor has to redesign new neighbourhood after Molly Banister decision

City council disagreed with administration’s recommendation to scrap road plans

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

Sergio Santos, right, of the Philadelphia Union, loses the race to the ball against goalie Quentin Westberg of Toronto FC during the first half of an MLS match Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Chester, Pa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP
Frustrated coach Greg Vanney defends banged-up Toronto FC after second straight loss

Frustrated coach Greg Vanney defends banged-up Toronto FC after second straight loss

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Robert and third baseman Justin Turner pose for a group picture after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. Sporting venues and games certainly have super-spreader potential but that risk can be minimized with buy-in from all involved, experts said Wednesday. The subject moved into the spotlight Wednesday after L.A. Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner tested positive for COVID-19 at the World Series. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eric Gay
Sports’ buy-in needed to prevent super-spreader potential: experts

Sports’ buy-in needed to prevent super-spreader potential: experts

In this image released by Fox, from left, Doug E. Doug, Malik Yoba, Rawle D. Lewis, John Candy and Leon are shown in a scene from the film "Cool Runnings." THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, Fox
Not cool: Jamaican bobsledder wants thief to return stolen shell to Calgary bar

An original member of the Jamaican bobsled team featured in the 1993… Continue reading

Speedskater Ivanie Blondin trains at the Olympic Oval in Calgary on October 17, 2016. Canada's long-track speedskating team is chasing ice to Fort St. John, B.C. The country's top speedskaters have been without ice in Calgary's Olympic Oval since early September because of a mechanical failure there. World champions Ivanie Blondin, Graeme Fish and Ted-Jan Bloemen are among 50 people including coaches and support staff travelling to northern B.C. for a 15-day training camp starting Nov. 1. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian long-track speedskating team finds temporary home in B.C.

Canadian long-track speedskating team finds temporary home in B.C.

The "Great One," Wayne Gretzky, left, holds up a banner bearing his number with some help from his friend Joey Moss during a jersey retirement ceremony at Skyreach Centre in Edmonton on Firday, October 1, 1999. Former Oilers captain Kelly Buchberger remembers how a familiar friend would come "barrelling" into the visitors' dressing room when he returned to Edmonton. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Wayne Gretzky reflects on the life, legacy of Joey Moss: ‘He gave parents hope’

Wayne Gretzky reflects on the life, legacy of Joey Moss: ‘He gave parents hope’

Players' sticks are shown during a World Championships Group A hockey game between Russia and Denmark, in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, May 12, 2016. A $30-million settlement of three class actions over the failure to pay junior hockey players the minimum wage has been thrown into jeopardy after three judges refused to sign off on the agreement. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ivan Sekretarev
Junior hockey employment lawsuit on thin ice; judges refuse to OK $30-million deal

Junior hockey employment lawsuit on thin ice; judges refuse to OK $30-million deal

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney answers questions at a news conference in Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Labour union leaders are urging Albertans to sign up to protest Premier Jason Kenney’s government through rallies and demonstrations and, if necessary, provincewide general strikes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta union leaders launch protest website against Kenney government

Alberta union leaders launch protest website against Kenney government

Most Read