Moving beyond what is permitted

In December the Belarusian law enforcement authorities at the request of Azerbaijan detained the blogger-traveler Alexander Lapshin. This man is notable for the geography of their trips — in addition to 120 countries visited, he has many passports. Lapshin — the citizen of Russia, Israel and Ukraine.

Five years ago, he went to Nagorno-Karabakh and the blog supported the aspirations of the unrecognized Republic to independence. Azerbaijan has made Lapshin to the list of banned. But in 2015, the blogger decided to violate the ban, and thanks to his Ukrainian passport, where he will, and not Alexander Lapshin arrived in Baku. And then showed off his quick wit on the blog. Angry Azerbaijani authorities made him a criminal case for illegal border crossing and anti-constitutional calls and declared in the international search.

In December 2016 lapshyn has been in the Minsk detention center. Azerbaijan sent a request for extradition. The maximum term for the charges Lapshin charges to eight years in prison.

Azerbaijan is a special partner for Belarus. Ilham Aliyev in the past several times rescued Alexander Lukashenko’s money and oil, when Minsk had to plug the hole spontaneously appeared due to disputes with Russia. Lukashenka has staked his hopes on Baku as Moscow alternative supplier of hydrocarbons in the future. Recently, the Azerbaijani President was awarded the Belarusian order of the name of his father, Heydar Aliyev. The two leaders are not just good, but that fundamentally on the post-Soviet space, smooth and peaceful personal relationships. Even though the membership of Belarus in the CSTO with Armenia and Russia, Minsk’s position on Karabakh has always been perceived both in Baku and in Yerevan as a mildly Pro-Azerbaijani.

In other words, only the relations with Armenia would not for Belarus obstacle to the extradition of the blogger in Baku. But on the same scales Minsk lay three passports Lapshin. And if Ukraine after the Crimea not especially stands up for the rights of the visitors of the disputed territories, the Russian and Israeli diplomats in Minsk actively engaged in the business of its citizens.

On the morning of 17 January, Sergey Lavrov stated publicly that Russia opposes the detention of blogger and especially its delivery to a third country. With the same statement was made, and Jerusalem. A few days later it became known that on the evening of the same January 17, Deputy Prosecutor General of Belarus signed a decision on extradition Lapshin in Baku.

The blogger is trying to appeal their results in the Belarusian court, but the court of first instance he had refused. Now that the conflict has passed in a political plane, without extreme pressure from the Russian side in Minsk to such a loss of face to go should not. Most likely, Lapshin will be given to Azerbaijan under assurances that it will not be put, and forgive and give to one of the countries of his citizenship. Under this deal, the Israelis have already secured the transfer to Baku of his letter of apology to the President Aliyev and the mother’s request blogger to pardon him.

Is it a coincidence the decision to issue Lapshin coincided with Lavrov’s statement or not, but that Minsk would not have been possible without the crisis in Belarusian-Russian relations, which regularly breaks through all new bottom.

This crisis differs from all previous complex, multilateral character. Minsk and Moscow for six months arguing over gas prices, short supply of oil, the regime of crossing the Belarusian-Russian border by aliens, prohibition of the Rosselkhoznadzor on the import of Belarusian products. Negative background in the relations complements the frequent criticism of the Belarusian authorities in Russian Federal mass media and the continuing rapprochement between Minsk and the European Union.

The cloud has become a familiar atmosphere, in Belarus it is perceived as the new normal, a new reality that has to be tolerated. As a result, Minsk lowered the bar claims to Moscow and became less afraid to make her angry.

Among the recent steps that fit into this trend — the December arrest in Belarus of three columnists by the Russian media, the pre-Christmas boycott Alyaksandr Lukashenka summits EAEC and CSTO in Saint Petersburg, delaying the signing of the Customs code of the Eurasian Union, a surprise to many in Russia, the Minsk’s decision to introduce visa-free regime of entry for five days for citizens of EU, USA and more 50 countries, locking in on the territory of Belarus nationalist website “Sputnik and pogrom” for extremism and finally, the decision to issue Lapshin in Baku.

It is unknown if objections Sergei Lavrov, the immediate trigger is the last step — they say, “now, we do it out of spite, once you have publicly pressuring”. But even if it was not so, and the decision to extradite in Minsk adopted in advance, it is significant that the protest of the Russian Minister in any way is not affected.

Previously, such demarches Belarus were negotiating the course, raising rates. Moscow or inferior, preferring not to aggravate, and to disburse the Minsk his wishlist or that it was less forced their position. The element of bargain in the gestures of Alexander Lukashenko is now, but has now added a new motive: Minsk expands to a space allowed. It is possible, for example, to Kazakhstan for a couple of years after the Crimea, to put on the actual terms of the half-dozen residents of the Russian-speaking North of the country for calls for separatism in social networks. Someone heard something about Moscow’s dissatisfaction? Belarus thought, other times allowed to decide such things with an eye only to their own national interests, than we are worse.

How to respond to Moscow on a new model of behavior of Minsk, good question. On the one hand, Syria, Ukraine, and trump is clearly a large segment of the Russian foreign attention than some minor tensions with Belarus. On the other hand, in the minds of most Russians and their ruling elites of Belarus — is not complete abroad, and the country-satellite, which is closer and dearer than the same Kazakhstan and, I would venture to suggest, the Ukraine, even to the last Maidan. Hence more sensitivity to deliberately independent gestures from Belarus.

But Minsk does not behave as dramatically as it did in Kiev, escaping from under the Russian wing. The space is expanded gradually, each new step is designed to find the actual limits, to help you understand where today the limits of the patience of Moscow, and to expand them. In this sense, the arrest and impending extradition Lapshin still a trial balloon. If it will be able to ride without anger Russia, the experiment will be considered successful.

This process is sustainable. It is less about negotiating tactics, and more about the contours of a new foreign policy strategy of Belarus. It isn’t written in any document and have never publicly spoken, but articulate it like this: as painlessly as possible to reduce the actual dependence and — equally important — accepted by the attachment of Minsk to Moscow. Belarus is the beginning of conscious emancipation, and not without the help of his “older brother”.