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Arrest of reporters in Belarus driven by Russophobic shift in its ideology

The position of Russia’s Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov, who qualified the arrest of pro-Russian journalists Yuri Pavlovets, Sergey Shiptenko and Dmitry Alimkin by the Belarusian special services as “fight with radicalism” is one more example of Russia’s inappropriate diplomacy in the post-Soviet republics, political scientist Yegor Kholmogorov told EADaily on Dec 20.

“I think that Surikov does not suit his position and it would be great news for both the Russians and the Belarusians if he was replaced by a man who is aware how serious the problem of anti-Russian and pro-Lithuanian sentiments in Belarus is,” Kholmogorov said.

He believes that the arrest of the journalists was not an attempt to blackmail the Kremlin on gas but a signal that Belarus is revising its ideology.

“The Belarusian authorities are becoming more and more anti-Russian and they were annoyed to see that those journalists kept criticizing Lukashenko in the Russian press. A few months ago, some insiders were already aware of the Minsk regime’s plans to arrest all pro-Russian activists and journalists. So, it was not an immediate decision but a serious shift in the regime’s ideology,” Kholmogorov said.

He is not very optimistic. “I doubt that the journalists will be acquitted. One could expect them to be released if the Kremlin exerted intensive pressure on the Minsk regime but they in Moscow are acting as usual - instead of protecting friends, they are trying to bribe enemies,” Kholmogorov said.

When asked to comment on the arrest of the journalists on Dec 20, Surikov said: “Nationalism is walking tall again. It is present in Belarus, in Russia, in Europe. Those people are Belarusian citizens and this is Belarus’s business. They are very radical journalists. We strong doubt that their articles are good for our relations.” He expressed doubt that Pavlovets, Shiptenko and Alimkin were true patriots of Belarus and advised other journalists not to mistake freedom of speech for radicalism.

The journalists were arrested in early Dec on charge of inciting ethnic hatred and may face 5-12 years in jail. The journalists advocated efforts to strengthen the Russia-Belarus Union and criticized the Belarusian authorities for defaulting on their obligations to Russia and indulging local nationalists. They warned that such a policy might result in a Ukrainian scenario in Belarus.

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