The case of Lapshin: How it will affect Azerbaijan – Israel partnership?

Blogger Alexander Lapshin at Baku airport. Photo: Trend Agency
Blogger Alexander Lapshin at Baku airport. Photo: Trend Agency

On 8th of February of 2017, a plane carrying Russian travel-blogger Alexander Lapshin landed at Baku International Airport. Alexander Lapshin, who was detained in Belarus a month ago at the request of Azerbaijan, is charged with violating the country’s legislation by illegally visiting occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Reportedly, Alexander Lapshin, who illegally travelled to Nagorno-Karabakh region in 2011, and 2012, presented Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh as an “independent state” on his social media account, and supported the “independence” of the unrecognized regime. The Supreme Court of Belarus on Tuesday upheld a government decision to extradite blogger to Azerbaijan, which raised a huge outrage in Armenian mass media.

The case of Lapshin appears to be the unique that foreign citizen has been detained outside of Azerbaijan based on accusations of the violation of the state borders. Information notes that, criminal case has been launched against him under articles of Azerbaijani Criminal Code 281.2 (Public appeals directed against the state) and in 318.2 (illegal crossing the state border of Azerbaijan Republic) and has been declared wanted. On the other hand, some claims that the case of Lapshin will explicitly lead to the deterioration of Azerbaijan – Israel bilateral relations, as Mr. Lapshin holds Israeli citizenship (in addition to Russian, and Ukraine citizenships).

Apparently, the claims about Lapshin’s further extradition to Baku has forcibly pushed Israeli officials to prevent the extradition of the blogger, while president A. Lukashenko clearly said “There is no reason not to pass him”. However, Baku officials reportedly made it clear that the government has no intention of withdrawing of the extradition request. Moreover, it should be noted that Azerbaijan appealed with this issue not to Belarus, but to Interpol, and Alexander Lapshin was detained in accordance with the Interpol decision.

Taking into account the intransigence of official Baku on the mentioned case, Israel suggested to Alexander Lapshin to address an official letter of apology in order to avoid the expected trial in Azerbaijan. Notwithstanding fact, Azerbaijan insisted on the extradition of Lapshin. Armenia, which occupied Nagorno-Karabakh 27 years ago, harshly endeavours to legalize the existence of the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”, Undoubtedly, Baku sees this factor as a threat to its national security, and aimed at preventing the violation of its internationally recognized borders.

Israel, which has long had warm relations with the overwhelmingly Muslim Azerbaijan, has done a lot to put a light to Lapshin’s case. Surprisingly, Lapshin’s conviction coincided with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official visit to Baku during which, the Prime Minister praised cooperation with Baku as a positive example of Muslim-Jewish coexistence. In this regard, it might be occur that Laphin’s arrest in Minsk would threaten the long-term Israeli – Azerbaijan strategic partnership. This point of view has broadly been discussed in one of the latest Eurasianet.org publications. According to the author, the arrest of Alexander Lapshin – an Israeli citizen will definitely put a shadow on Israeli – Azerbaijan relations.

However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel issued an official statement following the arrest of Lapshin in order to terminate anti-Azerbaijani rhetoric in local media. The Ministry of Israel emphasized the close relations between two countries, which had entered into new phase during the latest visit of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Supposedly, Azerbaijan seeks to use of the “Lapshin case” as an example, which would be a more effective weapon to prevent representatives of foreign nationalities from travelling to the occupied territories in Nagorno-Karabakah via Armenia. Obviously, the fact that blogger Alexander Lapshin is a citizen of Israel justifies its’ all concerns and efforts to solve the problem through official channels.

To sum up, Azerbaijan, as one of the strategic partners of Israel will not step down from its fair position concerning the territorial integrity, and although the case of Lapshin sparked concerns in Israeli media, it is unable to put blip in Israel – Azerbaijan partnership.

for Times of Israel