Stanislav Shushkevich, the first leader of an independent Belarus and one of the signatories of the accords that formally dissolved the Soviet Union, has died at the age of 87.
His wife Irina told Agence France-Presse that Shushkevich passed away Tuesday in the capital Minsk. He had been hospitalized in intensive care last month after contracting COVID-19.
The former electrical engineer was serving as interim chairman of the Supreme Soviet, or parliament, of what was then known as Byelorussia when the country voted to secede from the Soviet Union in September 1991, one month after the failed coup to remove then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev from power. Shushkevich was elected permanent chairman of the Supreme Soviet on September 18.
Nearly three months later, on December 8, Shushkevich met then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin and then-President Leonid Kravchuk at a resort in western Belarus and co-signed the Belavezha Accords, which ended the Soviet Union’s existence after nearly 70 years while creating the Commonwealth of Independent States. Gorbachev subsequently resigned as the final leader of the USSR more than two weeks later on Christmas Day.
In an interview with VOA in 2016, Shushkevich dismissed Gorbachev’s accusation that the men signed the accord because they were power hungry as “complete rubbish.”
Shushkevich served as head of state until January 1994, when he was removed by a vote of confidence after he was accused of corruption by Alexander Lukashenko, then chairman of a parliamentary anti-corruption committee. Several months later, Shushkevich came in a distant fourth place in Belarus’ first presidential election behind Lukashenko, who won the second round in a landslide.
Shushkevich became a strident critic of Lukashenko and his autocratic regime, which has remained in power since 1994.
In an interview with VOA in 2016, Shushkevich said the Belavezha Accords averted a civil war in the Soviet Union similar to the one that led to the demise of Yugoslavia. He also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to restore the old Russian Empire, instead of the Soviet Empire.
“He wants to make Russia dominate those lands and those countries that it used to dominate,” Shushkevich said.
Some information for this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.