The arrest of the pro-Russian journalists in Belarus might have been the Belarusian authorities’ attempt to pressure Russia on a number of crucial issues, such as gas and the conflict with Rosselkhoznadzor, Deputy Dean of the World Economics and Politics Faculty, the High School of Economics Andrey Suzdaltsev told EADaily on Dec 20. “This must have been the only way for Alexander Lukashenko to pressure Russia,” he said.
“Earlier, Lukashenko met with State Secretary of the Union State Grigory Rapota and expressed his displeasure with Russia’s delaying the supplies of Belarusian goods, doing nothing to solve the gas problem and having cut its oil exports. On Nov 22, Lukashenko visited Moscow but got nothing from Putin. On top of that, Zvezda and 1TV appeared with programs saying that Belarus was a nationalist state, where anti-Russian sentiments were almost as strong as in Ukraine. That was a shocking surprise for many. Lukashenko has always spoken against Russia in his country, but the Kremlin has preferred not to spoil relations with him. But, all of a sudden, it reacted. And Lukashenko got really mad to see the Russians being tough on gas, cutting their oil supplies and refusing to lend more money from the Eurasian Stabilization Fund. As a result, he found guys who cooperated with Russian portals and arrested them,” Suzdaltsev said.
According to him, the arrested journalists are just hostages to this situation. “Their fate depends on the next meeting of Putin and Lukashenko (in St. Petersburg on Dec 26). If the Kremlin agrees to forgive Lukashenko’s debts and to continue selling its oil cheap, they may face just conditional sentences. But if they in Moscow refuse, the journalists may face serious problems,” Suzdaltsev said.
According to President of the Institute for National Strategy Mikhail Remizov, the arrest of the pro-Russian journalists was a very alarming signal. “Those guys may be sent to jail and this may undermine confidence between the sides. There was nothing criminal in their activities. It was a politically motivated measure,” he said.
However, Remizov does not think that this was an attempt to pressure the Russians.
“I think that they in the Kremlin do not regard this as a problem. In Russia too, there have been lots of such arrests. So, I think the Russian leaders will not care much for some three journalists. They may simply ignore this case. Consequently, Lukashenko will not be able to use this as a trump. The only consequence this may have is shaken confidence between our peoples,” Remizov said.
He suggests that this may be just Lukashenko’s wish to control all the opposition forces. “I think it is his tactics to strike both the pro-Russians and the nationalists. He was really annoyed with their articles as they had wide response among the Belarusians,” Remizov said.
Three pro-Russian journalists were arrested in Belarus in early Dec. EADaily’s analyst Yuri Pavlovets, Chief Editor of Novaya Ekonomika magazine Sergey Shiptenko and columnist Dmitry Alimkin are facing the charge of inciting ethnic hatred and may be sentenced to 5-12 years in jail.
Besides this arrest, Belarus and Russia have a few other disputes: the Belarusians are reluctant to pay either the contract price for Gazprom’s gas or the debts accrued as a result of nonpayment and are displeased with Rosselkhoznadzor’s bans on some of their goods.