Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskya has criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to hold talks with “usurper” Alexander Lukashenko rather than the Belarusian people.
Tikhanovskaya’s statement comes ahead of one-on-one talks between Putin and Lukashenko in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday. The talks follow a month of mass protests that broke out after Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, claimed a landslide victory in a disputed presidential election.
“No agreements made in Sochi will be considered legitimate,” Tikhanovskaya said in a message on her official Telegram channel. “All accords signed with the illegitimate Lukashenko will be reconsidered by the new government because the Belarusian people refused Lukashenko their trust and electoral support.”
Tikhanovskaya claims to have won the Aug. 9 presidential election and fled to neighboring Lithuania following the election under pressure from the authorities.
While Western governments have rejected the official election results that handed Lukashenko his sixth term, Moscow has thrown its support behind the man commonly referred to as “Europe’s last dictator.”
Putin and Lukashenko are expected to discuss further integration between their countries as well as key trade and energy projects. The leaders do not plan to sign any agreements or hold a press conference after today’s talks, the Kremlin has said.
Tens of thousands of Belarusians rallied against Lukashenko and his harsh crackdown on the opposition on Sunday. Many demonstrators also carried signs with anti-integration slogans, accusing the Russian leader of attempts to “grab” Belarus.
Tikhanovskaya herself has stressed that Belarus’ protest movement is not anti-Russian.
Belarus Opposition Leader ‘Kidnapped’ By Masked Men
Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova has been kidnapped by masked men in central Minsk, media reported Monday, citing eyewitnesses.
Kolesnikova, 38, was one of a trio of women who united to challenge Lukashenko in last month’s presidential elections after other opposition candidates were either jailed or driven to flee Belarus. She is the only member of the trio to have remained in Belarus since the election, with presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fleeing to neighboring Lithuania and Veronika Tsepkalo to Poland.
Eyewitnesses described seeing masked men in civilian clothes capturing Kolesnikova and forcing her into a dark minibus labeled “Communications” outside the national arts museum in Minsk, the news outlet tut.by reported.
Minsk police said they were verifying reports of Kolesnikova’s kidnapping. The city’s police force later told the Russian state-run RIA Novosti news agency that it could not confirm the reports.
Belarus’ coordination council, set up to oversee the transfer of power to Tikhanovskaya, told the RBC news website that Kolesnikova is one of three council members with whom it has lost contact.
“We can only assume, but it’s obvious that the authorities are doing everything to prevent the council’s work as much as possible,” Pavel Latushko, former culture minister and currently a senior member of the transitional council, told Interfax.
The disappearances took place less than 24 hours after some 100,000 Belarusians took to the streets for a fourth weekend to protest the results of the Aug. 9 election where Lukashenko claimed an overwhelming majority of votes for his sixth term in office.
Lukashenko has accused the council of attempting to seize power and warned of “adequate measures” against its members.