Armenia Proposes Kicking Belarus Out of CSTO
The diplomatic brouhaha over a travel blogger has led to senior officials in Armenia calling for Belarus to be kicked out of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the security alliance to which they both belong.
Alexander Lapshin, the now-notorious Russian-Israeli travel blogger, was extradited from Belarus to Azerbaijan on February 8. He is facing charges in Baku related to his visit to Nagorno Karabakh, a de jure part of Azerbaijan that is de facto controlled by Armenian forces. Azerbaijan considers a visit to Karabakh to be an illegal border crossing.
Demanding Lapshin's extradition was a dramatic step for the relatively minor crime of an illegal border crossing, especially given that both Russia and Israel are two of Azerbaijan's most important partners, and both have strongly objected to the extradition.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev called his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko to personally thank him for the extradition, calling it a "manifestation of the Azerbaijan-Belarus friendship and strategic partnership."
The episode, correspondingly, resulted in outrage in Armenia, including protests at the Belarusian embassy in Yerevan, and there were calls to retaliate against Minsk in various ways, including withdrawing its ambassador and suspending relations. But the most commonly proposed retaliation was to try to kick Belarus out of the CSTO.
That demand was voiced by several members of Armenia's ruling Republican Party, who also noted Belarus's long record of selling arms to Azerbaijan. The fact that it was MPs from the Republican Party making the objections suggests it may have been an effort by President Serzh Sargsyan to publicly express Armenia's annoyance with Belarus and lay the groundwork for potential action.
"As it happens, a member state of the CSTO, Belarus, acts against the interests of another member of the organization, Armenia, in support of a third country, Azerbaijan, thereby enabling an escalation in the conflict zone, Nagorno Karabakh, in the CSTO space, acting counter to the interests of the organization," said Khosrov Harutyunyan, an MP and the head of Armenia's delegation to the CSTO parliamentary assembly.
Belarus responded frostily. "Belarus and Armenia are friendly countries, partners in multilateral organizations, including the CSTO," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Dmitry Mironchik. "Therefore, statements which were made in the Armenian parliament (if they were in fact made) are simply emotions."
He continued with a sort of veiled threat: "By the way, I'm not aware of any unbalanced or, moreover, derogatory assessments from Belarusian parliamentarians connected with any foreign policy steps of Armenia. Although there have been reasons to make a 'counter-reply.'"
Anyway, it seems unlikely that Belarus will be kicked out of the CSTO. But note that the secretary general of the organization will soon be an Armenian, meaning it might be able to retaliate more effectively via the CSTO. In theory, at least -- the CSTO has been saying it will appoint a new secretary general, and that it will be an Armenian, for more than a year. But the process has repeatedly been delayed for murky reasons, one of which may be Belarus's intransigence. This will probably get more complicated before it gets resolved.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.