Russia will act to prevent the extradition of Russian-Israeli blogger Alexander Lapshin to Azerbaijan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a press conference on Tuesday.
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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.
Lavrov’s announcement was the first official statement from a Russian official on the matter since Lapshin’s arrest.
“Russia is opposed to the criminalization of visits by journalists or other people to this territory or other territories in different regions. Moscow disagrees with the extradition to a third country of Russians detained abroad. We have contacted Mr. Lapshin through the consul. We know he is also an Israeli citizen and that Israeli diplomats have also contacted him. We will take all measures to settle the situation with full respect for the rights of the Russian citizen, who is also a citizen of Israel. We are working closely with Israelis in this regard,” Lavrov said.
A senior official in Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that Israel officially approached Russia ten days ago and asked for assistance to prevent Lapshin’s extradition. The two countries agreed to cooperate and the first outcome was on Thursday, after Lapshin had been in custody for four weeks, when the authorities in Belarus allowed the Israeli and Russian consuls to visit the blogger and gage his condition.
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.
The Israeli consul’s visit to Lapshin in jail was significant progress in the affair, because the authorities had not previously allowed Israeli diplomats access to the blogger. A senior official in Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that the authorities in Belarus claim they are treating Lapshin as if he only holds Russian citizenship, although he is also an Israeli citizen. Belarus said Lapshin represented himself as a Russian and not as an Israeli, so Israel had no standing in the matter, and Belarus would not hold any contacts with Israel concerning him.
Since Lapshin’s arrest, the Foreign Ministry has also been in contact with the Azeri government. Senior officials of the Azeri Foreign Ministry told diplomats at the Israeli Embassy in Baku that the Azeri government does not intend to back down from its extradition demand. There are concerns in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem that Lapshin could be extradited within a few days.