Stanislav Shushkevich, the leader of Belarus as it emerged from the Soviet Union 20 years ago, doesn’t look like a dangerous man. At 77, you would take him more for the rumpled physicist he used to be than for a dangerous dissident.
Nonetheless, he was able to visit the United States this week — including dropping by The Post on Friday — only after some James Bond-like maneuvers. His country’s longtime dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, has barred Shushkevich from traveling (in direct contravention of the country’s constitution, Shushkevich points out). So Shushkevich used his thoroughly tapped cellphone to tell all his friends that he was traveling to Russia by train, specifying the date, time and even seat number. Then he drove across an unpoliced border crossing into Russia and traveled from there to Latvia, Lithuania and eventually Washington.
The message he had to deliver: Belarus is stifling, politically and economically, under its “telephone dictatorship” — meaning everything happens based on phone calls from Lukashenko, up to and including the disappearance of politicians who get in the way and the execution of innocent Belarusans.
And, Shushkevich said, the Obama administration could do more to help his country’s beleaguered democrats stand up to their tyranny.
U.S. sanctions on Belarus, he said, have been more effective than European sanctions and have helped pressure Lukashenko to release some well-known dissidents. But, he said, Lukashenko only holds onto his position thanks to financial and political backing from Russia’s strongman, Vladimir Putin.
“Nothing can be done except through Moscow,” Shushkevich said. “The Americans could — but never do — put some pressure on Putin to live up to the many documents he has signed regarding human rights.”