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Russia/Belarus: Clash Over Media Reporting Strains Relations

  • Floriana Fossato

Moscow, 11 July 1997 (RFE\RL) - A public verbal clash between Russian and Belarus authorities over Russian journalistic reporting of events in Belarus developed this week.

Belarus' Foreign Ministry yesterday issued a statement defending a decision earlier this week to strip a Russian television journalist of its accreditation. The ministry protested against what it described as an information war waged by Russia's mass media against Belarus.

The Belarus Foreign Ministry accused Russian media of, in the statement's words, "interfering in the affairs of sovereign Belarus." It said Belarus expects Moscow to put a stop to what the statement labeled "blatant anti-Belarus propaganda."

The note followed a harsh public attack by top Russian officials of the ministry's decision to withdraw the accreditation of Pavel Sheremet, Minsk bureau chief for Russian Public Television.

The ministry accused Sheremet of insulting and tendentious reporting from Belarus. Sheremet, a Belarusian, denied the charges and said the move was a renewal of pressure on mass media in Belarus. He said he expects other journalists to be denied accreditation in the future. In March Belarus ordered the Minsk correspondent of Russian NTV commercial television - Aleksandr Stupnikov - to leave the country, after withdrawing his accreditation on similar charges.

On the day that Sheremet was stripped of his accreditation, the head of the Russian Government's Information Department, Igor Shabdurasulov, said Russian authorities hoped Belarus' government would change its decision. On the next day the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry said the move had caused concern in Moscow.

And on Wednesday Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and one of his first deputies, Boris Nemtsov, blasted the decision.

Nemtsov said in a news-briefing that the Russian government would defend its journalists wherever they work. He added that the move violated the Union Charter between Russia and Belarus, signed in May, which calls for press freedom in both states. Nemtsov said Russia will call for explanations through diplomatic channels. Without elaborating, Nemtsov said Russia would then take steps to prevent the repetition of incidents of the kind.

Later in the day, Chernomyrdin said in televised comments that the decision has been outrageous and unfriendly and said Belarus authorities should have complained to the Russian government instead.

Nemtsov is widely seen as critical of authoritarian Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. He is reportedly one of the key government officials who earlier this year put pressure on Russian President Boris Yeltsin to water-down the integration accord between Russia and Belarus.