U.S. Diplomat Asks Belarus To Release Her Jailed Husband, Vitali Shkliarov

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Vitali Shkliarov, a dual Belarusian American citizen who worked on the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, sits in a Moscow cafe in 2017. Jailed since late July, Shkliarov is «a hostage» in Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s efforts to portray the uprising against his regime as a Western-backed plot, Shkliarov’s lawyer tells NPR.

Andrew Roth/The Washington Post via Getty Images


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U.S. diplomat Heather Shkliarov, shown here with husband Vitali Shkliarov, has warned that his health is in «immediate danger» since his jailing by Belarusian authorities.

Heather Shkliarov


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Heather Shkliarov


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Gashinsky says his client’s American citizenship has made him «a hostage» in Lukashenko’s larger efforts to portray the uprising as a Western-backed plot — an argument Lukashenko made to Russian President Vladimir Putin this week as he sought reassurance of critical Kremlin backing for his regime.

«Vitaly ideally fits Lukashenko’s theory of outside influence on the protests,» says Gashinksy. «Here’s an American political spin doctor born in Belarus who they can tie directly to the protest movement.»

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top State Department officials have called for the release of Shkliarov and others «unjustly detained» by Lukashenko.

A State Department official who did not want to be named tells NPR that consular officials have been granted four visits to Shkliarov since his arrest — the last one on Sept. 11.

Heather Shkliarov’s statement notes that «views expressed in this statement are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. government.»

A commitment to grassroots politics

A political commentator on events in America and the former Soviet Union, Shkliarov’s writings have appeared in Foreign Policy magazine and Russia’s independent Novaya Gazeta, among other publications. He was recently a fellow at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russia and Eurasian Studies.

But Shkliarov also made his name working on presidential campaigns in Russia, Georgia and the United States —  where he worked as a volunteer for President Obama in 2012 and as a field staff organizer for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016.

He later served as a campaign adviser to liberal candidates in Georgia and Russia — including socialite Ksenia Sobchak’s failed bid against Putin in 2018.

He has said his interest in grassroots politics was sparked by watching Obama deliver a landmark speech in summer 2008 in Berlin.

«So, just imagine you grow up on some brainwashed, communist crap on TV,» said Shkliarov, «and then it’s like, what’s happening? Why does my country not have politicians or ideas like this?»

NPR’s Michele Kelemen contributed to this story.

  • Belarus

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