Ignoring warnings from Russia and Armenia, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday told law-enforcement authorities in Belarus to extradite to Azerbaijan a Russian-Israeli blogger arrested by them because of his trips to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Lukashenko defended the December 14 arrest and said the blogger, Alexander Lapshin, should have been handed over to Baku “long ago.”
“Azerbaijan appealed to Interpol, not to us,” the Interfax news agency quoted him as telling a news conference. “We detained him in accordance with Interpol’s decision and must hand him over to Azerbaijan in accordance with all laws and regulations.”
The Azerbaijani authorities say Lapshin illegally entered “occupied territories of Azerbaijan” when he visited Karabakh in 2011 and 2012 without their permission. The 40-year-old, who holds Israeli, Russian and Ukrainian passports, gave detailed accounts of the trips on his Russian-language blog.
A court in Minsk upheld last week Belarusian prosecutors’ decision to authorize Lapshin’s extradition. He appealed against that ruling.
“They say that he appealed but I’m sure that the court will still back our decision because it’s legal,” said Lukashenko.
The Belarusian leader, who has faced strong Western criticism of his human rights record throughout his long rule, made clear at the same time that he would accept any agreement on the Lapshin case that could be reached by Azerbaijan, Israel and Russia.
Lapshin was detained in Minsk two weeks after Lukashenko visited Baku and received Azerbaijan’s highest state award from President Ilham Aliyev. The two presidents have long maintained a warm personal rapport.
Lukashenko ruled out Lapshin’s release from Belarusian custody despite Russia’s objections to the blogger’s extradition, which were first publicly expressed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last month.
The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, reiterated earlier on Friday that Lapshin’s handover to Baku is “inadmissible.” According to the RIA Novosti news agency, Zakharova said Moscow is engaged in “intensive contacts” with the Belarusian authorities on the matter.
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian condemned Lapshin’s prosecution as a “disgrace” on Tuesday. Both Armenia and Belarus are members of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Lukashenko defied the criticism amid rising tensions between Moscow and Minsk that have been triggered by a fresh dispute over the price of Russian oil and gas supplied to Belarus.
The 62-year-old strongman on Friday condemned Russia’s decision earlier this week to step up controls on the Russian-Belarusian border. He accused the Kremlin of violating treaties between the closely linked neighbors and using energy supplies to "grab us by the throat."