Sannikau: “The most important thing for me is my family and the safety of my family”

At the end of October ex-presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau received political asylum in Great Britain. The former political prisoner has told new agency Reuters why he had to take such a step.
Family members as hostages
“The most important thing for me now is my family and the safety of my family,” Sannikov added, saying he had taken the decision to leave because it was impossible for him to stay in the country any longer.
Sannikau ran against the veteran Belarus leader in the 2010 presidential poll which Western observers said was fraudulent, and was sentenced to five years in jail last year for taking part in a protest against Lukashenko’s re-election. His wife has herself been given a suspended sentence over the protests and is barred from leaving Belarus, reporter Maria Golovnina mentions.
“She has to be at home every day and police are watching her. Sometimes they deliberately visit in the middle of the night even though there is a small child,” the politician said.
Dead-end road
Lukashenko’s system depends on financial backing from Russia, its former Soviet overlord which provides Belarus with cheap energy and other benefits, and has so far shown little sign of growing grassroots dissent, the journalist stressed.
“It’s not a functioning system,” Sannikau said. “At the moment (state) resources are aimed at crushing all forms of protest. Through all these years the authorities have only confirmed they are not capable of reform.”
According to Sannikau, the game is always the same. “(Lukashenka) needs money. He wants to retain authority, and to retain authority, he wants to retain this obsolete economic model”.
“His aggressive behavior against the West helps him secure Russian cash, and he is right. When Russia starts making economic demands he softens his rhetoric against the West. This game has now become very cynical,” the former presidential candidate pointed out.
“Exile is not normal for me”
Asked if Belarus could one day witness the kind of revolutionary change that has swept the Arab world since early 2011, Sannikau said: “Theoretically, everything is possible”.
He added he was prepared to step in to fill any ensuing political void and lead his homeland towards closer ties with Europe but said that Lukashenka’s grip on power was very strong.
“I do want to go back to the country as soon as possible. If I am useful to the country then of course I would accept certain proposals,” he said. “But it’s too early to say that … This situation (exile) is not normal for me, it’s a hideous situation. Of course I want to go back to the country, to a free country.”
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