Russia downplays arrest of blogger’s girlfriend, increases influence in Belarus – 25/05/2021 – Worldwide

Russian student Sofia Sapega, 23, the girlfriend of blogger Roman Protassevich, was also arrested by the Belarusian dictatorship, although at the time of her arrest there was no charge against her.

Sapega was traveling with the reporter on the Ryanair plane that flew from Greece to Lithuania, where they live, last Sunday. With maneuvers worthy of a spy movie, the flight was diverted by dictator Aleksandr Lukachenko to Minsk airport, where the couple were being held.

The journalist, co-founder of Nexta – a crucial enforcement chain during the protests against Lukachenko after the 2020 elections – was the target of the maneuver, called “state hacking” and “irresponsible kidnapping” by the states. United, UK governments and the European Union.

He is accused of disturbing order in Belarus and promoting illegal demonstrations and faces up to 15 years in prison. The 26-year-old blogger said he feared for his life – when the pilot warned he was going to land in Minsk, he appealed to the crew: “Don’t do this. They will kill me. I am a refugee ”.

As for Sapega, there were “suspicions of involvement in crimes in August and September 2020” – months of daily acts against Lukachenko. By that time, however, she had already left Belarus, according to her mother.

“She went to Lithuania around August 11 or 12. Just look at your passport, ”Anna Dudich told Russian media. The student defended her master’s thesis at the Vilnius International Humanities University. On Tuesday, she was questioned, criminally charged and remanded at KGB headquarters for two months, lawyer Aleksandr Filanovich told RBC.

Yet it was not the Russian government, but the West who protested and called for his immediate release. For Russia, the matter is not urgent, said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “We must examine the matter, but without haste,” the Russian minister said at a press conference in Sochi.

The Russian movement

Some analysts believe that Russia is not only downplaying the incident but might have encouraged it to increase its influence over Lukachenko, increasingly isolated by Western countries.

This is the assessment of Yale University (USA) professor Timothy Snyder, historian and author of several books on the region. Snyder says the Russian government wants to “give an ever stronger embrace” to the neighboring country, in which it has economic and geopolitical interests. “Russia’s decision would be that the foreseeable EU sanctions against Belarus bring Minsk closer to Moscow,” he wrote.

Over the past decade, Lukashenko had resisted attempts by President Vladimir Putin to increase integration between the two countries, envisaged by a one-state deal. For some analysts, the Belarusian dictator’s growing unpopularity inside and outside his country may make him increasingly dependent on Russian aid – and at the mercy of Putin’s demands.

Russia’s participation in Sunday’s air maneuver was also suggested by the British government and German researchers – according to them, the two countries have, in addition to military and secret service cooperation agreements, an integrated air defense system. , which would prevent the flight deviation without the knowledge of the Russian government. According to Milan Nic, senior analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations, Putin “may be using Belarus as a testing ground for dishonest methods of action.”

On the other hand, the suspicions of Russian participation were qualified as “obsessive Russophobia” by Dmitri Peskov, spokesman for the president. A Russian participation in Sunday’s episode is also considered unlikely by Ben Aris, editor-in-chief of BNE IntelliNews – a news and analysis service on Central and Eastern Europe. Putin’s top priority, he said, is the summit with President Joe Biden, scheduled for June in Switzerland, where the Russian president hopes to dissolve tensions over the years with the United States.

“They won’t risk that chance by threatening to shoot down another commercial plane full of innocent civilians – citizens of the European Union, for that matter – so that a Belarusian dictator can quench his thirst for revenge on a 26-year-old blogger. years, ”he says.

Igor Lebedka, a Belarusian military security and information expert, claims that Lukashenko, ignoring all limits to stay in power, is becoming an increasingly toxic figure for Putin.

According to him, the Russians are already taking action to show – mainly to the European bloc – that if the dictator falls, they will fill the void. For Polish analysts Piotr Zochowski and Kamil Klysinski of the Warsaw-based Center for Oriental Studies, the calculations are not so simple. Putin certainly has interests in a Belarus isolated by the West, but he also fears a “colored revolution” which would uncheck Lukashenko of power, which would also encourage opponents in Russia.

“This suggests that the Kremlin wishes to continue supporting the regime in Belarus, as long as it effectively pacifies any manifestation of social protest,” the experts write. At the same time, Putin bolstered trusted Belarusian politicians, who would rule the country in the eventual downfall of Lukashenko.

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