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Monday, October 25, 2021

Belarus risks Kremlin’s wrath after ‘abducting’ pro-Putin journalist from Moscow

Mr Mozheiko in his story quoted a longtime friend of the executive, who described him as a “very good man”. 

After the publication of the article, the newspaper’s website was banned and blocked in Belarus, while authorities arrested people who had expressed sympathy for the gunman online.

Vladimir Sungorkin, Komsomolskaya Pravda’s editor-in-chief and a staunch Kremlin supporter, has dismissed the criminal case against his reporter as absurd. Komsomolskaya Pravda is Russia’s best-selling tabloid and was once described by Mr Putin as his favourite newspaper.

“I think this is a big strategic mistake,” Mr Sungorkin said. 

While the incident is unlikely to turn Moscow against Mr Lukashenko overnight, it adds to a growing unease in Russian power circles over the Kremlin’s support for a man who has become an international pariah. 

Western governments have sanctioned the Lukashenko regime over violence against the opposition, the reported torture of protestors, and the forced landing of a Ryanair flight over Minsk this year so officials could arrest a critical journalist who was on board. 

“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.

“The Russian establishment consists of different groups of interests. No one can be sure when that number of groups in Putin’s inner circle hostile to Minsk is going to tip the balance, but the trend is there.”

Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, earlier this week condemned the reporter’s arrest as an attack on “media freedom”, but later appeared to backtrack on his criticism. 

Belarusian authorities have claimed Mr Mozheiko was “expelled” from Russia and that they arrested him after he crossed back into Belarus.

Mr Lukashenko has managed to hang on to power by a thread, largely thanks to Kremlin backing, despite massive opposition protests last year.

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