An embattled Israeli-Russian travel blogger was trotted in front of news crews in Baku on February 8 following his extradition from Belarus to Azerbaijan, where he is facing charges of illegal border-crossing and hostile activity.
News reports showed handcuffed blogger Alexander Lapshin emerging from a government jet in the Baku airport and escorted with gun-wielding guards in balaclavas. “The extradition of Alexander Lapshin is another testimony that Azerbaijan is capable of defending its national interests,” said Deputy Prime Minister Ali Akhmedov.
He remains in pre-trial detention, his next destination not disclosed.
The Russian-language blogger stands accused of unauthorized entry into Nagorno Karabakh, a breakaway territory from Azerbaijan controlled by ethnic Armenian rebels and Armenian military forces. Baku also accuses Lapshin of posting entries supportive of Karabakh’s independence on his Livejournal blog, Puerrtto.
Azerbaijan long has tried to coerce Karabakh back under Baku’s fold through international isolation; mainly by blacklisting foreign travelers to the territory. But this is the first time Azerbaijan had a foreign national arrested in a foreign country and then handed over to its control for such an offense.
The 40-year-old blogger may have become a victim of geopolitical circumstance. Concern about an increasingly bossy Moscow appears to have united Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who also share a dislike for critical media and a propinquity for a seemingly endless hold on power. With Moscow and Minsk caught up in an imbroglio over energy and politics, Lukashenko has taken an increasingly hostile line on Russia and banks on Azerbaijan as an alternative to Russian energy supplies.
Such a confluence of events proved unfortunate for Lapshin, as Belarus did not appear to think twice about arresting him in December at Azerbaijan’s behest, and then transferring him to Baku over Moscow’s objections.
Although Lapshin is hardly a household name in travel journalism, Azerbaijan is now making a showcase of him. Azerbaijani MPs interviewed by the pro-government news service APA stated that his arrest is intended as a lesson for anyone else thinking of violating Azerbaijan’s borders and statehood.
Ultimately, Lapshin’s biggest hope for leaving Azerbaijan may be Israel, a key Azerbaijani defense and energy ally. Last week, Belarus’ Lukashenko cryptically remarked that “If Israel wants it, not a single hair will fall from this person’s head.”
Both Moscow and Jerusalem have voiced concern over the fate of Lapshin, but, as yet, to no obvious avail.
Fearing what Lapshin’s extradition may mean for its Nagorno-Karabakh protectorate’s already limited access to the outside world, Armenia has made the most vocal protests, but, coming from Azerbaijan’s sworn enemy, Baku readily dismissed them.