On Monday, September 7, Maria Kolesnikova, a major opposition leader in Belarus, suddenly disappeared in what her supporters claimed was a kidnapping by security forces. Kolesnikova then reappeared at Belarus’ southern border with Ukraine the next day.
Kolesnikova, as well as opposition leaders Anton Rodnekov and Ivan Kravtsov, were detained by masked security agents in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, with the intention of forcing them into Ukraine. While security forces managed to get Rodnekov and Kravtsov across the border, they failed to do the same with Kolesnikova.
At a press conference in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, on Tuesday, Rodnekov and Kravtsov described how the three activists were detained and forcefully taken to Belarus’ border with Ukraine where they were told that if they did not leave the country they would be jailed indefinitely. After passing a border checkpoint,, however, Kolesnikova responded by tearing her passport into pieces and throwing it out of the car window so that Ukraine could not admit her. She then exited the car and walked back into Belarus without Rodnekov and Kravtsov.
In an interview with Russian journalists, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed that Kolesnikova attempted to leave Belarus illegally with Rodnekov and Kravtsov before being kicked out of the car on the way to Ukraine and then being arrested by Belarusian police. However, this account is disputed by Anton Gerashchenko, Belarus’ minister of internal affairs, who verified that authorities had planned to forcefully remove Kolesnikova but failed.
This comes after nearly a month of protests by Belarusian citizens. On August 9th, President Lukashenko was re-elected as president for the 6th time in a row. The authoritarian leader has been president of Belarus since 1994. He has rewritten laws to extend his power; for example, in 1996, he persuaded voters to grant him the right to extend his term, rule by decree, and appoint one-third of the upper house of parliament. During his presidency, he has resisted attempts at political and economic reforms and isolated Belarus from the international community.
In every election since 2006, Lukashenko has been accused of tampering with election results in order to stay in power. In the August 2020 elections, he won 80% of all votes, while opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya won only 10%; she, like many others, claims the results are “bullshit.”