. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nemtsov Thrown Out of Belarus

APBoris Nemtsov speaking on a mobile phone as Belarussian police officers escort him to the plane in the Minsk airport.
Belarussian security officials detained Union of Right Forces leader Boris Nemtsov on his arrival in Minsk on Wednesday and promptly put him on a plane back to Moscow.

Nemstov, who had planned to attend a conference on integration between Russia and Belarus, slammed his expulsion as "a large-scale provocation."

Analysts said Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko himself had probably orchestrated the deportation in a personal vendetta against Nemstov, who is an outspoken critic of his administration.

Belarussian security officials detained Nemstov moments after he landed at a small airport on the outskirts of Minsk. He was escorted to a car and driven to the Minsk-2 international airport, where he was charged with violating Article 20 of the Belarussian law on foreigners.

"They chose Article 20, under which a foreign citizen can be refused entry to Belarus in the interests of national security, public order and the well-being of the nation," Nemtsov said after arriving back in Moscow.

Irina Khakamada, also a Union of Right Forces leader and a deputy State Duma speaker, accompanied Nemstov on the trip. While she was not detained, she chose to stay with Nemtsov and leave the country with him.

Khakamada said in televised remarks that security officials accused Nemstov of trying to smuggle in a large amount of U.S. currency and propaganda materials.

An unnamed official in the Belarussian State Security Committee told Interfax that more than $50,000 and "literature aimed at destabilizing Belarus" was confiscated from Nemstov.

The official said the committee received an anonymous tip earlier in the day that Nemstov would arrive with the cash and materials.

Committee spokesman Fyodor Kotov said he believed the money was to have been used "in a plan to overthrow Belarussian President Lukashenko," Interfax reported.

"This is horrible in the development of Russian and Belarussian relations," he told the parliament in Minsk. "First we destroyed relations with the West, and now we are ruining relations with our most sincere partner, Russia."

Khakamada said the materials and cash had been planted.

"This propaganda materials were fake, and they and the dollars did not belong to us," she said. "I had the impression that we were back in '37," the worst year of Stalin's purges.

Nemtsov said the security officers "behaved politely but in a mean way."

Nemstov and Khakamada could be seen being escorted from the Minsk-2 airport building to a plane for BelAvia's regular Minsk-Moscow flight, The Associated Press reported.

Journalists gathered there shouted to Nemtsov and Khakamada to speak to the press. The two tried to walk toward the reporters, but their escorts held them back. The plane took off minutes later.

Nemtsov said his detention was probably linked to plans by Moscow and Minsk to create a Russia-Belarus Union. The two countries have long planned to expand the largely symbolic union to include a single currency and other unifying elements. "Lukashenko is against the union and is showing this with his behavior. I hope our head of state will take note of this," Nemtsov said on Channel One. "Doing business with this person is very dangerous."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov said the ministry viewed Nemtsov's deportation "with bewilderment and deep concern."

"The violations of freedom of movement of citizens within the framework of the union state does not only contradict the special character of relations between Russia and Belarus, it also casts a shadow on the process of building the union," he said in a statement. "We are counting on getting an answer from the Belarussian leadership."

Nemstov had planned to address scientists and public figures at an international conference titled "Belarus-Russia: New Integration" and organized by the local Strategia foundation.

Nemtsov said Wednesday that he had also intended to appeal to the Belarussian parliament to investigate the disappearances of Viktor Gonchar, a former deputy speaker of parliament, former Interior Minister Yury Zakharenko and ORT cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky.

Valery Dashkevich, a former adviser to the Belarussian Central Bank, said the deportation appeared to be an attempt by Lukashenko to get back at Nemstov.

"I wanted to listen to Nemtsov and Khakamada at the conference," Dashkevich, an analyst at the Independent Institute of Social and Political Investigations, said by telephone from Minsk.

"What happened is a shame," he said. "But I understand why. Nemtsov has spoken quite negatively about Lukashenko's position concerning the integration of Russia and Belarus in recent public appearances. He also has spoken negatively about Lukashenko himself many times."

Adding fuel to the fire, Russian newspapers in September published a purportedly tapped telephone conversation between Nemtsov and Belarussian opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko in which Nemstov said he was trying to convince President Vladimir Putin to cooperate with the Belarussian opposition.

Nemtsov has not denied that the conversation took place.

"I think what happened is clearly the personal reaction of our president," said Strategia president Leonid Zaika. "He decided to show who is the master of the house after the publication of that telephone conversation. I think Lukashenko is testing Putin's reaction."

But Vyacheslav Nikonov, director of the Politika Foundation, said it would be too simplistic to try to link the incident to the telephone conversation. "I think Lukashenko wanted a scandal," he said. "He has lost touch with reality."

Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the Indem think tank, said Putin would have a hard time deciding how to respond.

"If it happened in any other country, our Foreign Ministry would immediately issue an official protest," he said. "But with the recent revelation of the telephone conversation, the reason for Lukashenko's reaction is very clear.

Korgunyuk said the most he expected from the incident was a protest from the Duma.

Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov said he has asked the Belarussian Embassy in Moscow for an explanation.

"It looks like the Belarussian border guards are helping the Union of Right Forces to conduct a good PR campaign," he was quoted by Interfax as saying.