Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky yesterday broke the Kremlin’s silence and attacked Belarusan president Alyaksandr Lukashenka for the jailing of Russian state television journalists. (See Monitor, August 18-21) Warning on radio that "Moscow’s patience is wearing thin," Yastrzhembsky said he "categorically demanded" that Lukashenka release the Russian journalists "within the day." If this is not done, the Russia-Belarus Union will "remain on paper" and have "gloomy prospects," Yastrzhembsky warned.
The statement’s timing proved counterproductive. On the previous evening and again yesterday morning, senior officials in both capitals stated that Minsk intended to release yesterday afternoon the four-man ORT team led by Anatoly Adamchuk. Lukashenka appeared to have realized that dragging out the crisis would force Moscow to take off the gloves and speak out in just the way Yastrzhembsky did. Once the tardy ultimatum was delivered, however, Lukashenka decided he could not appear to bow under to pressure. He canceled the release of the four, demanded a retraction of Yastrzhembsky’s statement or explanations from "the Russian leadership," rejected the "blackmail" he perceived in the warning about the dark prospects for the Union, and concluded that Yastrzhembsky had tried to demonstrate that "when they stamp their foot there, Lukashenka trembles here." (Russian agencies, August 21)
Despite Lukashenka’s remonstrations, however, it was reported this morning that Belarus has released three of the six Russian TV journalists in detention. While the news has not yet been confirmed, it is reported that the journalists are on their way to the Russian embassy in Minsk and that a fourth journalist, who is a Belarusan citizen, will be released later today. (BBC, August 22)
Georgia Is Urged to Rescue Russian Paratroop Hostages.