Estonia's new special representative started working with the Belarusian opposition in Vilnius, Lithuania this week. The envoy is also tasked with monitoring developments in Belarus.
Marko Koplimaa's duties include maintaining and strengthening ties with exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and her cabinet and seeing how Estonia can increase its cooperation.
Additionally, as Estonia does not have an ambassador in Minsk and is working with minimal staff, Koplimaa must also monitor developments in the country.
"Due to the security context and the way Belarus is positioning itself in the context of the war in Ukraine, it is of utmost importance for Estonia to have a closer understanding of the developments in Belarusian society — economic, social and military," he explained.
To do this he relies on the Belarusian opposition and members of the Russian opposition who have also moved to Lithuania.
In October, Belarus limited the number of staff at Estonia's embassy to one diplomat, one consular employee, and one technical staff member. The Estonian government made a reciprocal move.
Other countries have also assigned diplomats or teams to work with the opposition in Vilnius, he said.
"In Lithuania, a diplomat with ambassadorial status has been appointed to work with the Belarusian opposition, but for the most part the various embassies have reinforced their teams with regular diplomats," he said.
Koplimaa said the U.S.A., Poland and France have assigned more resources to work with the opposition and monitor Belarus.
Asked how Estonia can increase its support, Koplimaa emphasized the importance of political support.
"A lot can be done here. One very important part is political support — it should not to be underestimated. It is important for the Belarusian opposition that the current opposition leader, Tikhanovskaya, is politically recognized as the leader of the opposition and a potential alternative to Lukashenko. International political support will certainly help to strengthen the Belarusian opposition inside Belarus as well," said Koplimaa.
Secondly, Estonia provides funding. Some of this is used for the Belarusian European Humanities University which operates in exile in Lithuania.
"We also financially support programs that document the Belarusian regime's crimes against political prisoners and torture. This is the kind of practical cooperation that can be done and will certainly be done in the coming months and years," Koplimaa said.
The official also highlighted the security situation.
"Officially, Belarus is not occupied by Russia, but a hybrid occupation is taking place and Russia has complete military freedom to move militarily on Belarusian territory, using it in attacks against Ukraine," he said.
"If we want to talk about long-term security in Europe, Ukraine must first and foremost win the war against Russia, but in this context, we must not forget Belarus, which, if it falls completely into the Russian fold, will also seriously undermine Estonia's security. This is also one of the reasons, and a very important security reason, why Estonia supports the Belarusian opposition," Koplimaa said.
Tikhanovskaya, members of the opposition and thousands of their supporters fled to Europe after a government crackdown following the presidential election in August 2020. The regime has since jailed over 1,400 political prisoners.
Many countries, including Estonia, do not recognize the outcome of the election which kept Alexander Lukashenko in power.
Editor: Mait Ots, Helen Wright