A man who hopes to run for president in Belarus has said he believes the regime of Alexander Lukashenko could fall in a fortnight – or at the most a couple of months.
Valery Tsepkalo was barred from running against Alexander Lukashenko in this month’s polls so his wife, Veronika, joined forces with two other women – including leading figure Svetlana Tikhanouskaya – to challenge the incumbent.
Mr Lukashenko was declared the winner in the 9 August polls, but the results have been dismissed as fraudulent by the opposition. The UK shares this view.
Mr Tsepkalo said the president had to step down, dismissing as meaningless an offer Mr Lukashenko made to hold new elections following a referendum on the constitution.
“Nobody believes him anymore,” the IT entrepreneur and former diplomat told Sky News.
“He would like to pacify the electorate, to pacify the demonstrators, the people that go out to streets. He is a liar.”
Asked how much longer he thought Mr Lukashenko could hold onto power, he said: “Maybe a couple of weeks. Maximum a couple of months.
“That is the maximum that the Belarus public would offer him. That’s my feeling.
“The situation is evolving so fast he cannot run the country because he absolutely lost his authority, he lost his popularity and the only thing that is rising now in Belarus is the hatred of him.”
Mr Tsepkalo, a former ambassador to the United States before he fell out of favour with the regime, fled to Moscow last month with his two young children, fearful of arrest.
His wife remained to campaign but also re-located to Russia after the election.
The family have since moved to Ukraine and are planning this week to relocate to Lithuania, where Mrs Tikhanouskaya and her two children have also based themselves.
He said he planned to return to Belarus once it was safe to do so and would run for president once another election is held.
Mrs Tikhanouskaya has said she would be a transitional leader, preparing the way for free and fair elections.
Mr Tsepkala said he hoped for Belarus to have a future that saw the country continue close relations with Russia and also build strong ties with the European Union and the UK.
“I am pragmatic. I am not ideologically driven,” he said, speaking from Kiev.
“I understand the importance of Russia towards Belarus. You cannot ignore it. More than 50% of trade is with Russia.
“But at the same time, we understand that we are a European country. We need to share the ideas of democracy.
“We definitely should be much more open to the West. Much, much, much more open.”