President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s Security Council spokesman, Vasyl Baranau, yesterday compared Russia’s state-controlled ORT TV to the "cold-war Radio Liberty." Just as RL "aimed to destroy the USSR," ORT serves to "discredit the Russia-Belarus Union" and to "draw a wedge between the initiators of integration, Lukashenka and Boris Yeltsin," the spokesman stated.
While the Kremlin kept silent over the jailing of the two ORT teams in Belarus, Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov went on ORT TV yesterday to state that he thought the journalists were "not in detention, but in something like confinement at home." Primakov and the Duma’s Communist chairman, Gennady Seleznev, concurrently offered assurances that Minsk would release the Russian journalists within a few days. ORT information division chief Andrei Vasiliev rejected statements made by jailed crew leader Anatoly Adamchuk, under pressure from the Belarusan KGB, that ORT management had forced the journalists to carry out a "political provocation" against the Belarus government. Vasiliev retorted that "Adamchuk himself avidly sought this mission."
In central Minsk yesterday, independent journalists and representatives of opposition parties manned pickets all day long demanding the release of the Russian journalists. However, senior Minsk officials warned of impending measures against other Russian media correspondents and local stringers, and summoned several of them for questioning. According to Lukashenka’s presidential administration deputy chief Ivan Pashkevich, Lukashenka "personally supervises the investigation." (Russian agencies, ORT, NTV, August 20; see also Monitor, August 18-20)
Nevertheless, Lukashenka’s escalation is probably a calculated one, as suggested by his reported assurances on an imminent release of the journalists. He is presumably aware that the Kremlin will be forced to speak out against him if the crisis drags on.
Georgian Premier Returns Empty-Handed from Abkhazia.