The KGB of Belarus released Russian ORT television’s Minsk bureau chief Pavel Sheremet from prison on the night of October 7-8, escorting him home on a pledge of recognizance. (See Monitor, October 8) Sheremet, together with cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky, will remain under surveillance in Minsk pending trial on criminal charges of deliberately violating the border and damaging the state interests of Belarus. Sheremet has spent 73 days in pretrial detention.
At an impromptu meeting with Russian journalists in Minsk, partly broadcast on Russian networks, Sheremet thanked President Boris Yeltsin for interceding on his behalf with Belarusan president Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Sheremet also revealed that he had not been given access to news of any kind, including developments in his own case, during his detention. The executive secretary of the Belarusan Popular Front, Vyacheslau Sivchik, whose BPF had unambiguously called for Sheremet’s release all along, said that Yeltsin had done too little and acted too late to secure Sheremet’s release from jail and to protect him from an impending unfair trial. Moscow should have shown far greater firmness toward Lukashenka and done so from the beginning of the long, drawn-out incident, Sivchik observed.
In Moscow, Yeltsin’s foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, stated with a hint of reproach that "Russia certainly waited a long time" for the release of Sheremet from jail. Without commenting on the upcoming trial, Prikhodko called for "serious joint work to resolve the problems on which our countries’ integration depends." He anticipated that the Russian and Belarusan governments will "soon be able to switch from coolness to constructive cooperation," particularly in the context of the October 22 CIS summit. (Russian TV and NTV, Russian agencies, Belapan, October 8)
Prikhodko’s remarks suggest, as did those of First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov even before Sheremet’s release (see Monitor, October 8), that the Kremlin regards the jailing of the ORT journalists as a temporary irritant in its relationship with Lukashenka. Prikhodko’s remarks also suggest that Moscow remains prepared to stake its policy on the incumbent Belarusan president, if only for a lack of viable alternatives. Like Nemtsov and other reformers in the Russian government, Prikhodko avoided mentioning the issue of democracy in Belarus. In the short term, too, Moscow knows that it will find itself in the minority on the important issues to be considered at the impending CIS summit, and, as Prikhodko clearly hinted, it is counting on the support of Lukashenka, the CIS’s "leading integrator."
Lukashenka Biting the Hand that Feeds Him.