Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 172

A series of high-level statements in Moscow have reflected consternation over Belarusan president Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s insistence on prosecuting Russian ORT TV journalists Pavel Sheremet and Dmitry Zavadsky. Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, along with First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov and Yeltsin’s press office, issued these statements on September 13 through 16. They all insisted that Lukashenka had promised Yeltsin at their September 6 meeting in Moscow that he would discontinue the criminal proceedings and allow the two journalists to return to Russia. "The matter is not closed and can not be closed as far as we are concerned," the statements said. The Russian officials were implicitly correcting or reinterpreting Yeltsin, who twice in the last two weeks declared the matter "closed and removed from the agenda" following talks with Lukashenka.

The Belarusan president had embarrassed Moscow on September 12 by stating that he "does not intend to return to the matter" and insisting that Yeltsin had "acknowledged the correctness of his position." Attacking unnamed Russian officials and state television for "undermining" the Russia-Belarus Union, Lukashenka called for energizing that union and the CIS in general by dividing tasks between the two presidents: Lukashenka as chairman of the Russia-Belarus Union’s Higher Council and Yeltsin as chairman of the CIS Council of Heads of State. (Russian agencies, September 12-15)

Meanwhile, Russia has sued Belarus in the CIS Economic Court for "violations of agreements concluded in the framework of the Customs Union," CIS executive secretary Ivan Korotchenya announced in Moscow yesterday. Without specifying the alleged violations, Korotchenya admonished Belarus that it has "no right to violate agreements that were signed and ratified." He voiced his "doubts that the court [will be] able to settle the matter," but hoped aloud that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka "would find within himself the strength to admit to errors, as he is responsible before the people for his actions." (Russian agencies, September 11)

Korotchenya is a Belarusan (native spelling: Karatchenya) who has held the CIS post since the organization’s creation, and he acts as a conduit of instructions from Moscow. The court case and verbal chastisement seem likely to have been inspired by Russian officials at the first deputy prime ministers’ level, who oppose economic concessions to Lukashenka but do not control Moscow’s overall policy toward Belarus.

Violence in Western Georgia.