Azerbaijan reportedly won’t back down from its efforts to extradite a popular Ukrainian-Israeli travel blogger arrested last week in Belarus at the request of the Central Asian nation, despite concerns the incident could led to a setback in diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Israel on Sunday asked Belarus not to hand over Alexander Lapshin to Azeri authorities, but Baku officials told Israeli diplomats on Monday that the government has “no intention” of withdrawing the extradition request.
“The Azeris want to make an example of Lapshin. This incident could turn into a serious mishap in our relations with them,” an Israeli foreign ministry official said according to Haaretz.
Last week, Azerbaijan issued an international arrest warrant for Lapshin on charges of “violating the state border” over his visit to the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh along the Armenian border without coordinating with the authorities in Baku.
He was arrested in Minsk on Tuesday.
Reports in Hebrew-language media said Lapshin had also published Russian-language blogs critical of Azerbaijani president Ilham Alyev.
According to Azerbaijan’s Report AZ news agency, the General Prosecutor’s Office in Baku has charged that between April 2011 and October 2012, Lapshin “entered the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, promoted illegal regime in his own website… named the Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state. He has also called on infringement of territorial integrity of internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan.”
Lapshin’s arrest came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Azerbaijan, a rare trip for an Israeli head of government.
A secular state that has long had warm relations with Israel, the overwhelmingly Muslim Azerbaijan is one of Israel’s main trading partners, buying weapons systems and providing the Jewish state with the lion’s share of its oil.
During his visit, Netanyahu touted cooperation with Baku as a positive example of Muslim-Jewish coexistence.
Earlier this year, Armenian forces claimed Baku deployed Israeli-made kamikaze drones in a battle against them as violence flared over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.