Now is the time to make up for lost ground. Ms. Tikhanovskaya is in Washington this week with a vital message: In the global contest between democracy and dictatorship, Belarus is a critical test case. The pro-democracy movement in Belarus has suffered arrests, beatings, torture, censorship and other deprivations, but it continues to fight for freedom. The United States should be at the vanguard of those helping Belarus complete the journey.
To start, the Biden administration ought to match or exceed the European Union’s most recent round of sanctions on Mr. Lukashenko’s henchmen. Mr. Lukashenko’s rule is buttressed by a network of moneybags who regularly peel off profits from state enterprises and resources, redirecting cash to the dictator and his security services, allowing them to go on tormenting Belarus citizens. These regime oligarchs — such as Alexander Zaitsev, Alexei Oleksin, Nikolay Vorobey and Mikhail Gutseriev — provide the fuel that keeps Mr. Lukashenko in power. The United States ought to follow Brussels in seeking to isolate them and empty the regime’s cash registers — no loopholes, no looking the other way.
The United States also can extend a hand to the beleaguered folks inside Belarus. Lately, Mr. Lukashenko’s thugs have been seizing activists to extract contacts from their phones, then arresting everyone on the list. The activists need Internet circumvention techniques, financial support through cryptocurrency, and replacement of the equipment the regime has confiscated.
What’s unfolding in Belarus is nothing less than the awakening of a new generation. Its members do not want to suffer any longer in Mr. Lukashenko’s simulacrum of a Soviet dystopia, but rather aspire to live in a free and open society like those they see elsewhere. They are done with the old paternalism of the state; they are ready to take responsibility for their own future. The surge of support for Ms. Tikhanovskaya last year marked this generation’s coming of age. Meanwhile, Mr. Lukashenko clings to power by coercion and brutality.
Rarely will there be a clearer place or time for President Biden to put muscle behind his pro-democracy rhetoric. He should meet with Ms. Tikhanovskaya, who is simply asking that the world’s democracies press the regime to enter negotiations leading to new elections. Then Mr. Biden should act.