The Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has been accused of abducting a journalist from Vladimir Putin’s favourite newspaper, risking a split with his only remaining ally.
Security officers from Belarus’s KGB service allegedly kidnapped Gennady Mozheiko, a reporter from Russia’s best-selling tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, in Moscow after he wrote an article about one of their most controversial operations.
Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for 27 years, has cracked down fiercely on discussion of the raid, in which an IT worker shot and killed a KGB officer after security forces broke down his door.
More than 200 people have been detained within Belarus merely for discussing the operation on social media.
Analysts say the regime’s anxiety stems from the fact the IT worker, Andrei Zeltser, fought back against the KGB, an almost unheard of act of defiance during an unrelenting crackdown on the opposition.
Yesterday, Mr Mozheiko reappeared after he went missing this month to face charges of “inciting social hatred” and “insulting authorities” in a Minsk court.
He faces up to 15 years in prison if he is convicted.
One reason Mr Mozheiko’s article was said to anger the Lukashenko regime was he quoted a neighbour who called Mr Zeltser a “good man”.
The Belarusian authorities claimed Mr Mozheiko, who is Belarusian, was “expelled” from Russia and that they arrested him after he crossed the border.
But his employers have called it an abduction, saying that he called his mother from a Moscow hotel just hours before Belarusian police announced his detention.
“I think this is a big strategic mistake,” Vladimir Sungorkin, editor-in-chief of Komsomolskaya Pravda, once described by Mr Putin as his favourite newspaper, said yesterday.
Mr Sungorkin, a staunch Kremlin supporter, has dismissed the criminal case against his reporter as absurd.
While the incident is unlikely to turn Moscow against Mr Lukashenko overnight, it adds to growing unease over the Kremlin’s support for a man who has become an international pariah after the brutal crackdown on the protests that followed his widely disputed election win last summer.
“Now Lukashenko has harmed relations with one of Russia’s most conservative parts of the media landscape and their Kremlin supervisors,” Artyom Shraibman, a Belarusian political analyst, said in a piece for the Carnegie Moscow Centre.
Western governments have sanctioned the Lukashenko regime over violence against the opposition, the reported torture of protesters and the forced landing of a Ryanair flight over Minsk this year in order to allow officials to arrest a journalist who was on board. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021)
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