Armenia’s government cancelled a senior law-enforcement official’s upcoming visit to Belarus on Thursday one day after condemning the Belarusian authorities for handing over to Azerbaijan a Russian-Israeli blogger who has repeatedly travelled to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Vartan Yeghiazarian, a deputy chief of the Armenian police, was due to visit Minsk on March 2-5 to take part in official ceremonies to mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Belarus’s police service.
Prime Minister Karen Karapetian cancelled the trip in an executive order that was posted on the government’s website. It gave no reason for the decision.
The move is a further indication of Yerevan’s anger at blogger Alexander Lapshin’s extradition which was followed by his demonstrative arrest at the Baku airport late on Tuesday. The Armenian Foreign Ministry denounced the handover as a “gross violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of speech and movement.”
Lapshin, who has Russian, Israeli as well as Ukrainian citizenships, was arrested in Minsk in December on an Azerbaijani arrest warrant related to his 2011 and 2012 trips to Karabakh. The Azerbaijani authorities say he illegally entered “occupied territories of Azerbaijan.”
Senior representatives of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) reacted furiously to the extradition, launching scathing attacks on Belarus’s longtime President Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday.
“This is a dirty and disgraceful deal between two undemocratic regimes,” Eduard Sharmazanov, the HHK spokesman, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Democratic governments would have hardly taken such a step.”
Sharmazanov, who also co-heads a Belarusian-Armenian inter-parliamentary commission, said Armenian lawmakers are suspending all contacts with their Belarusian colleagues pending further explanations by Minsk.
Vahram Baghdasarian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, charged that Lukashenko extradited Lapshin in return for an Azerbaijani state medal which he received from President Ilham Aliyev during a November visit to Baku. The blogger was arrested two weeks after that visit.
“Even a dictator like [Josef] Stalin did not manage to make his country’s citizens think the way he wanted them to,” Samvel Farmanian, another HHK lawmaker, declared on the parliament floor.
Farmanian said Lukashenko’s pro-Azerbaijani stance is discrediting the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) “in the eyes of the Armenian public.”
Both Armenia and Belarus are members of the two Russian-led alliances of ex-Soviet states. Baghdasarian went as far as to suggest that Yerevan should seek Belarus’s expulsion from the CSTO.
Belarus’s Foreign Ministry rejected the Armenian criticism on Thursday, insisting that Lapshin’s extradition conformed to Belarusian and international law. “Calls for expulsion from the CSTO and the like are devoid of any legal grounds,” Dmitry Mironchik, the ministry spokesman, told reporters in Minsk.
In separate comments to the Russia Today news agency, Mironchik referred to Belarus and Armenia as “friendly countries.” “Therefore, statements made in the Armenian parliament … are simply emotions,” he said.
“Incidentally, I don’t know of any unbalanced, let alone offensive, evaluations made by Belarusian parliamentarians in connection with Armenia’s foreign policy moves, even though they had reason to challenge some of them,” he added without elaborating.
Aliyev telephoned Lukashenko on Wednesday to thank him for what the Azerbaijani presidential press service called a “just position and resolute steps” regarding the Lapshin affair.The blogger’s extradition was also a manifestation of “friendship and strategic partnership between Belarus and Azerbaijan,” Aliyev said, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry voiced its “deep disappointment” with Lapshin’s extradition, saying that it “does not correspond to the spirit of the alliance between Russia and Belarus.”
Relations between Moscow and Minsk that have deteriorated in recent weeks due to a fresh dispute over the price of Russian oil and gas supplied to Belarus. Last week Lukashenko accused the Kremlin of using energy supplies to "grab us by the throat."