WARSAW, Aug 9 — Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya today urged the West to maintain pressure on the Belarus regime but not to conflate her homeland with Russia over the Ukraine war.

President Alexander “Lukashenko must under no circumstances be legitimised on the international stage,” the 39-year-old now living in Lithuania told the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita.

The interview was published two years to the day since the contested Belarusian presidential election in which Tikhanovskaya claimed victory but fled after Lukashenko launched a deadly crackdown.

A political novice at the time, she against the president, who has been in power for nearly three decades, in place of her husband who was jailed on what supporters say are politically motivated charges.

He is one of 1,261 political prisoners still in detention in Belarus, according to the human rights organisation Vesna.

Tikhanovskaya believes the sanctions introduced by the West against Belarus are not ideal as they have not forced the regime to release the prisoners.

“Sanctions have been applied but they feature many loopholes and potential ways of getting around the system,” Tikhanovskaya said.

“Western countries argue that they don’t want to penalise Belarusian workers with sanctions, but don’t the prisoners held behind bars suffer too?” she asked.

“The West needs to open its eyes.” Tikhanovskaya noted that with Belarus allowing Russian troops to attack Ukraine from its territory, the invasion had reinforced her country’s dependence on the Kremlin to which Lukashenko appears more loyal than ever.

“The West must not lump Belarus in with Russia... but should make it well clear to the Kremlin that an annexation of Belarus by Russia is inconceivable,” she said. — AFP