Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya thanked Estonia for its support at the UN Security Council and the European Union but said she hopes for stronger sanctions in the future, during a visit to Tallinn on Monday.
President Kersti Kaljulaid and Tikhanovskaya discussed the fourth EU sanctions package on Monday at Kadriorg and how Estonia can further support Belarus, including grants for civil society and independent media.
"Estonia is one of the leading countries that supported Belarus morally and practically. We are grateful to the Estonian government and people, first of all for organizing UN Security Council meetings for the support of media and civil society after the crackdown and support in the European Union Council. We really appreciate your strong support and your strong actions after the fraudulent elections in 2020 and after this accident with the Ryanair flight," she said.
When asked by a journalist what more Estonia could do to help, Tikhanovskaya highlighted Estonia's current technical support for Belarusian free media and students and said: "I am sure that Estonia will do as much as it can."
Tikhanovskaya said the EU's response had been "rather quick" after rigged elections in Belarus last year but said they could be "broader" in further rounds of sanctions, which will be applied after the forced landing of a Ryanair flight at Minsk Airport.
"Of course, we want more and more assistance, more pressure on the regime because people in Belarus are suffering every day in jails, they are being tortured, they are being beaten," she said. "I hope that the fourth package of sanctions will be much wider."
Speaking outside the President's Palace at Kadriorg, Kaljulaid said Estonia will do everything possible to support the democratic forces in Belarus and praised Tikhanovskaya and the people of Belarus for raising the country's profile. The president said Estonia will raise the topic when it takes over the presidency of the UN Security Council in June.
Kaljulaid said Estonia wants to ensure that the sanctioned Belarusian capital does not pass through Estonia. "We have also received clues about this and we intend to use this information," the president said.
Kaljuaid also held a moment's silence for Belarusian political activist Vitold Ashurak, who died in a Belarusian prison in unclear circumstances after being sentenced to five years in prison in January, and other political prisoners.
Speaking about the current activities of the Belarusian opposition, Tikhanovskaya said their main goal is to organize free elections and give Belarusians the right to decide on the country's future.
Asked about the organization of future protests, which have slowed in recent months, she said: "I agree that protests must grow, but propaganda usually blames me [saying] it is easy to talk about when you are in exile abroad and the same people are living here. It is evident that protests should revive, be renewed. But they will only be revived when people in Belarus will be ready for this.
"But we can't just say go out to the streets to protest because you can't even imagine the level of pressure inside Belarus. You can hear about it, but to feel it you have to be in Belarus and it is really scary to live there. But the fire in people's hearts has not disappeared."
Tikhanovskaya will also meet the Speaker of the Riigikogu Jüri Ratas (Center), Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets (Center), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu Marko Mihkelson (Reform) and member of the Riigikogu and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) on Monday during her visit.
You can watch the press conference below, Tikhanovskaya's comments are in English.
Editor: Helen Wright