Israel Tries to Reach Compromise Over Fate of Blogger Jailed in Belarus

Blogger Alexander Lapshin was arrested after visiting the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory; Azerbaijan is seeking extradition.

Alexander Lapshin
From the Facebook page of Alexander Lapshin

Israel has proposed that the Russian-Israeli blogger held in Belarus apologize in writing to Azerbaijan, and in exchange Baku will revoke its request to extradite him, a senior official in Jerusalem said.

Blogger Alexander Lapshin has been in custody in Belarus for more than a month following his visit to the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and his subsequent critical posts about the Azeri regime.

The official said Israel suggested Lapshin write a letter apologizing to Azerbaijan for visiting Nagorno-Karabakh and for criticizing the Azeri regime. In exchange Azerbaijan will revoke the arrest warrant it issued against him and withdraw its extradition request from Belarus.

The official said Israeli diplomats passed the proposal on to senior Azeri foreign ministry officials a few days ago. The Israeli diplomats said Lapshin had agreed to this proposal and has already drafted an apology letter.

An ethnic Armenian soldier manning a position near the Nagorno-Karabakh town of Martuni on April 8.
Reuters

The diplomats told the Azeri officials that the crisis around Lapshin's arrest was unnecessary and that the apology letter could be a way for Azerbaijan, Belarus, Israel and Russia to end the affair, the official said.

He said the Azeri officials have not turned down the proposal, but have not replied to it yet either.

The idea that Lapshin write an apology letter was raised several weeks ago in talks between MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union), who is helping Lapshin's family, and Azeri officials. The Azeris said at the time they would agree to a written apology, but would not retract their demand to extradite Lapshin from Belarus. They said it was a matter of principle and would release Lapshin only after he was extradited to their country. However, Lapshin feared the Azeris would not keep their word and the move did not take place.

Senior Israeli officials said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's statement on Tuesday that Moscow objects to Lapshin's extradition was a dramatic development that could lead to a breakthrough in the efforts to release Laphsin. They cited Russia's leverage on both Belarus and Azerbaijan.

Despite this, the Azeri response to Lavrov's statement was extremely cool. Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said Lapshin had broken Azeri law and the extradition request was in keeping with all the international conventions. 

"I believe the Russian law enforcement authorities would have taken similar steps in regard to a man who carried out similar offenses toward Russia and crossed the border illegally," he said.

Lapshin, 40, divides his time between Israel and a few other places. He was arrested on December 15 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, at the request of the Azeri authorities, who demanded his extradition. The arrest was made one day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. 

Lapshin was arrested following his visits to Nagorno-Karabakh, over which Baku claims sovereignty but is now under Armenian control, as well as due to critical posts in his Russian-language blog against Azeri President Ilham Aliyev.