The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' informal virtual session of the UN Security Council on media freedom in Belarus took an unexpected turn when Russian First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy attacked Estonia.
Estonia has spearheaded UN Security Council discussions on the human rights situation in Belarus before. This time, the focus was on media freedom as journalists who cover events in the country often become victims of repressions themselves. Members of the press have been persecuted, arrested and beaten in Belarus.
After representatives had expressed concern for the situation in Belarus one after another and Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu proposed the creation of an international mechanism for investigating crimes against peaceful protesters in the country, it was the turn of the Russian representative.
First Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy started by saying that he will not limit his statement to three minutes as representatives of other members have been unilaterally attacking the authorities in Belarus in five-minute speeches.
Polyanskiy described the meeting to support press freedom in Belarus as a clear provocation and flagrant meddling in an independent country's internal affairs.
"I was also surprised by our Estonian host's summary that shows he does not want an open discussion but rather an illusion of international agreement and a choir of likeminded states," Polyanskiy said. "Is this a conscious attempt to linger on the domestic affairs of a country that in no way threatens international peace and security?"
Polyanskiy went on to say that claiming that a country's elections saw bias and fraud is not a rare occasion, giving the example of presidential elections in the U.S. Polyanskiy asked why potential election fraud in America is not a subject of discussion and referred to different treatment of elections in USA and Belarus as garish double standards.
"Is there a list of 'bad' countries somewhere regarding which colleagues in the West silently support anti-government actions and protests and 'good' ones where the powers that be are always in the right? Why are you paying exaggerated attention to such phenomena only in certain countries, while ignoring them in France, UK, Germany and, as it happens, also Estonia?" Polyanskiy asked.
The ambassador said that the West's claim according to which opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya got 80 percent of the vote at presidential elections in Belarus has not been proven.
He also accused Western countries of openly supporting certain Belarusian media channels.
"How do you not realize that this support is keeping them from being impartial? Would such actions be tolerated in your countries?" Polyanskiy asked.
The diplomat then moved onto Estonia, accusing the country of persecuting Russian media. Polyanskiy said that the Russian population in Estonia is kept from speaking their mind in the press and that statements are censored. He gave the example of the Sputnik television channel that was closed last year which he described as muzzling of freedom of speech.
"Russian media channels find it nearly impossible to open a bank account in Estonia," he then said, adding that Russian journalists are not allowed entry into the country.
Polyanskiy also said that Estonian security services invite representatives of Russian media channels for what he described as repressive explanatory conversations. He said that persecution of Sputnik journalists means international attention should be turned to press freedom in Estonia, adding that the rights of the Russian minority in Estonia are being violated. Polyanskiy pointed out that Estonia has the most stateless persons who do not have the right to vote or serve in the military.
"Barking at Belarus is easier than fixing things at home. No country is perfect," Polyanskiy said in closing.
Editor: Marcus Turovski