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Anton Krivenyuk: Stop “Azerbaijanization” of international politics

Photo from Alexander Lapshin’s Facebook account

Belarus is going to extradite Alexander Lapshin (Puertto), a well-known blogger, detained in Minsk on Dec 15 on Azerbaijan’s request.

In Azerbaijan, Lapshin will face the charge of crossing the country’s state border without appropriate documentation or outside the check points of that border and also the charge of calling for violent upheaval, dismantlement of the Azerbaijani statehood or violation of the country’s territorial integrity and disseminating appropriate materials.

The key reason Lapshin was put on Azerbaijan’s black list is that he has paid two visits to Nagorno-Karabakh. But the blogger is a citizen of Russia, Israel and Ukraine and has visited Azerbaijan twice since being blacklisted. Simply, he used his Ukrainian passport, where his name is spelled Oleksandr, which was enough for misleading Azerbaijani border guards. And this is also a crime, according to the Azerbaijani legal code.

Lapshin has also breached Article 281 of the same code by having posted calls for recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence.

Lapshin has time for appealing against the verdict but, according to his family, the Belarusian authorities are doing their best to prevent his lawyers from doing this. Even his apology to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Sergey Lavrov’s support have not helped.

The arrest of Lapshin may give rise to a whole number of precedents.

On Dec 6, the Belarusian authorities arrested EADaily’s correspondent Yuri Pavlovets and publicist Dmitry Alimkin. Together with Chief Editor of Novaya Ekonomika magazine Sergey Shiptenko, they are charged with inciting ethnic strife.

Lapshin was detained on Dec 15 to become the fourth Russian citizen arrested in Belarus within just ten days. Despite Russia’s reaction and the risk of a conflict, none of the four has been set free to date.

Four arrests within ten days is not a coincidence. This is Belarus’s new policy. It is quite cynical and resembles the medieval practice of “executing ambassadors.”

But this is not only archaic but also very dangerous. There are lots of conflicts in the post-Soviet area and the temptation to push personal interests by means of such “kidnapping” may lead to quite serious consequences in real politics. Belarus is giving the worst example of how one can solve economic or political contradictions with partners.

The key point here is that Belarus is becoming dangerous for Russians.

On Nov 28, the Azerbaijanis decorated Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko with the Heydar Aliyev and Lukashenko promised a “reward.” The arrest of Lapshin may well be one.

Lapshin has paid for having forgotten in what a world he lives. To be more precise, he has got used to living in a world where conflicts between ideologies and former mother countries and colonies have no direct effect on the lives of ordinary people, who are free to move and are not afraid of being thrown into jail for nothing.

Today, most citizens in the world are not responsible for the policy of their states.

But Belarus has sent us back to ancient times: a man who is not suspected of having committed any crime has been arrested by the law enforcers of a state that has no claims against him.

Such standards are usual for North Korea and also for Azerbaijan, where the special services and the expert community have lists of foreigners who have ever said anything about the country and its policy and also a list of those expressing pro-Armenian views. Until now this hysteria has been just ridiculous but not dangerous. Azerbaijan is a country whose citizen has killed a citizen of another country with an ax and has been proclaimed a hero for that - though this is not a rule.

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But what the Belarusian authorities are doing is something very different. Persecuting foreign citizens, spying on bloggers and arresting them for critical blogs – all this is something brand new or a blast from the past, in other words, the Belarusian authorities seem to have transferred the values of oriental tyrannies to a modern non-totalitarian society.

One of the proofs that this case is something beyond modern mentality is the fact that Israel has stood up for Lapshin. And not only because Lapshin is an Israeli citizen but also because one cannot just watch how the inadequate laws of totalitarian Azerbaijan are being observed thousands of kilometers away from its borders.

Today, Azerbaijan is the only post-Soviet republic, maniacally spying on any activity concerning its former autonomy. But this story has an epilogue.

Georgia has a law on occupied territories, which stipulates criminal proceedings against foreigners visiting Abkhazia and South Ossetia with no permission from Tbilisi.

For example, in July 2016, the Russian delegation to the OSCE PA faced problems with visiting Tbilisi just because some of the delegates had paid visits to partly recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

As a result, Speaker of the State Duma Sergey Naryshkin was denied entry and was replaced by MP Nikolay Kovalyov.

The Georgian law was adopted in the times of Mikheil Saakashvili. Under him, the Georgian authorities detained a number of foreigners for visits to Abkhazia - but mostly those who visited Abkhazia on their way from Russia to Georgia. In 2010, they almost imprisoned Belarusian citizens Semyon and Irina Dyachok, who traveled Georgia as pilgrims. A month earlier, one more Belarusian had spent a month in jail for a similar mistake. But even then, nobody imprisoned people for long terms.

The Georgian law on occupied territories was just part of their policy not to let the world forget their problems.

They were not very tough on foreigners for fear of spoiling relations with other countries but for Abkhazians and South Ossetians a visit to their territory might have ended in kidnapping, murder or prosecution.

After Saakashvili, the Georgian authorities became even softer and today we are receiving no reports about any foreigners detained in Georgia for visiting Abkhazia or South Ossetia. The most common thing they do is prevent Abkhazians’ official visits to Europe.

The Moldovan authorities also have a list of personas non-grata, mostly Russian politicians, journalists and experts. For them it is much easier to prevent foreigners from visiting Transnistria as now that crossing Ukraine has become a problem, Chisinau is the only way foreigners can use to go to Tiraspol.

And even though none of those countries have realized that such “measures” will not help them to settle their protracted conflicts, they have become much less aggressive and are beginning to regard them as “dormant volcanoes.”

The only exception is the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict. Should the Belarusian authorities extradite Lapshin to Azerbaijan, they will create a dangerous precedent when an individual can be used for “fueling” a state’s foreign political ambitions. Arrests of tourists, bloggers and just first comers may serve as “signals” for foreign political partners. We must stop the “Azerbaijanization” of the international politics until it is too late.

Anton Krivenyuk, specially for EADaily

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