Belarus: concerns over disappearance of Maria Kolesnikova

Contradictory reports circulated on Tuesday after the disappearance of Maria Kolesnikova, one of the leaders of the Belarusian opposition, and two of her colleagues. According to the Belarusian authorities Kolesnikova is in Ukraine. Acquaintances of the 38-year-old, however, have said that she was arrested. What consequences will this have for the opposition and for the regime in Minsk?

Open/close all quotes
Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Movement now stands on its own two feet

It's by no means certain that the opposition will be decisively weakened by the absence of the three women leaders, Deutschlandfunk points out:

“The movement has been organised on a decentralised basis for many weeks. Almost all the protests are organised in social networks, sometimes by activists in individual districts or acting in other small groups. Things can go on like this even without the encouraging smile of Maria Kolesnikova, who always spoke politely and moderately. Her trademark is the heart she formed with her hands at all appearances. This gesture and what it expresses, namely non-violence and philanthropy, will hopefully remain hallmarks of the movement.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

Kremlin's plans have been thwarted

The Minsk regime could well have shot itself in the foot, political commentator Arkadi Dubnov points out on his blog on Echo of Moscow:

“The kidnapping could prove to be a sort of casus belli for a change of course in Moscow's policy towards Lukashenka. Until now it looked as if Lukashenka would somehow be made to accept the movement 'Vmeste' [Together] under the leadership of the imprisoned banker Babarika and his colleague Kolesnikova. And then to offer this movement to the government in Minsk as a negotiating partner - so as to split the opposition into a Babarika group and a Tikhanovskaya group, which Moscow considers pro-Western and therefore anti-Russian. Kolesnikova's disappearance could thwart these plans.”

Lietuvos rytas (LT) /

Now the opposition will demand Lukashenka's head

Lietuvos rytas also believes that Kolesnikova's disappearance could backfire for the Belarusian president:

“Lukashenka is risking more than usual by eliminating the leaders of the protests. These people were actually ready to enter into dialogue with him, and even with Moscow. By contrast the new leaders who are now maturing on the streets will only want his head - literally. On the other hand it can't be ruled out that that's exactly what the regime wants: the more radical the protests become, the fewer qualms Lukashenka need have about brutally suppressing them. Can the EU leaders, who are still humming and hawing, prevent that? Perhaps, but only if they make it clear to Belarus and Russia that they're united and ready to roll out the sanctions.”

Deutsche Welle (RO) /

A disgrace for the EU

It is a growing embarassment that the EU hasn't yet imposed sanctions on Minsk, the Romanian service of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle criticises:

“The country's dictator, protected by his bigger brother from Moscow, Vladimir Putin, is refusing to comply with the wishes of the people expressed in the election and the ensuing protests and resign. Instead he continues to have people arrested by the dozen, having politicians, journalists and peaceful demonstrators whisked away. The EU has shamefully refused to impose sanctions on Alexander Lukashenka, at the insistence of Germany, France and Italy. The 'communication channels' with the tyrant must not be closed, they say. But under the current conditions it's unclear just what these channels are good for.”