The move to block the Charter97.org news service, which has been in operation since 2011, comes despite attempts to normalise relations with Minsk taken by the West from 2015 to 2017, Poland’s niezalezna.pl website reported.
It commented that Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko has in a sense benefited from Russia's aggression in Ukraine because he has gotten rid of his moniker as "Europe’s last dictator" and made a comeback to “the political salons” of the European Union and the United States.
However, reaching out to Lukashenko has not improved the state of democracy in Belarus, niezalezna.pl said.
Belarusian authorities blocked access to Charter97.org last Wednesday, citing the service’s allegedly “extremist” content, niezalezna.pl said. It called Charter97.org one of the main sources of independent information in Belarus.
Charter97.org, which is available in Belarusian, Russian and English language versions, reached 250,000 users every day, with about 2.5 million users and 50 million hits a month.
The service was more popular than other independent media available in Belarus and also more popular than official Belarusian media and Russian propaganda outlets operating in that country, according to niezalezna.pl.
In 2011, the editor-in-chief of Charter97.org, Natalya Radina, escaped from persecution by the Lukashenko regime, niezalezna.pl said. Ever since then, the service has operated out of Poland with the financial support of the Polish foreign ministry, niezalezna.pl added.
The Polish news website quoted Radina as saying that blocking the Charter97.org service in Belarus means that "the information space" in that country is now "completely subject to Russian influence."
Russian propaganda channels and internet portals operate freely in Belarus, and now that Charter97.org has been blocked, citizens will increasingly use Russian sources of information, according to Radina.
The decision to block Charter97.org is beneficial to Russia because it weakens Belarus’ sovereignty, Radina said, as quoted by niezalezna.pl.
She added: “Nobody knows what kind of move [Russian President] Vladimir Putin will decide to make with regard to Belarus … everything is possible … it is constantly being said that Belarus may be next in line in the Kremlin's occupation policy.”