Belarus Sweeps Aside Criticism After Ryanair Flight Interception

Belarus swept aside the concert of international criticism and outrage on Monday after the manu militari interception of a Ryanair commercial flight which led to the arrest of an opponent who was on board.

The West denounced them a “hijacking” of planes, an act of “piracy” and even of state “terrorism” by this former Soviet republic whose authoritarianism has grown since the repression of a major popular protest movement. ‘last year.

The European Union, at the summit Monday and Tuesday, could adopt sanctions. The Kremlin said it was waiting for an “evaluation” of the incident by international bodies, but its diplomacy expressed its support for Minsk.

Both the United States and European countries have called for the “immediate release” of 26-year-old opponent Roman Protassevich, arrested by Belarusian security forces at Minsk airport after an emergency landing.

Protassevich is the former editor-in-chief of the influential Belarusian opposition media Nexta, which played a key role in organizing the protest movement against President Alexander Lukashenko during the summer and fall of 2020.

His name has been on a list of people “involved in terrorist activities” in Belarus since November.

Sweeping aside international criticism, Belarusian authorities assured Monday that they acted “in accordance with international rules” by confusing this commercial flight between Greece and Lithuania, two EU countries, citing a bomb threat on board, which turned out to be untrue.

For the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, the Europeans are guilty of formulating “baseless accusations” and “politicizing” the incident by believing that Minsk orchestrated or instrumentalized the false alarm.

– Support from Moscow –
Faced with the avalanche of criticism, Belarus has received the support of Russian diplomacy, whose spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said she was “shocked” on Facebook by the reaction of the West.

For its part, more restrained, the Russian presidency deemed it necessary to wait for the competent bodies to analyze the incident.

“It is the international air bodies that must give an assessment,” said Dmitri Peskov, Kremlin spokesman.

“Some are calling for sanctions, others that everything is in order” he added, “we are not going to participate in this race”.

The European Council is due to meet on Monday to discuss this new point of friction with the Belarusian regime, of which a hundred senior officials are already blacklisted for the repression of anti-Lukashenko demonstrations.

On Sunday, a MiG-29 fighter took off on the personal order of Alexander Lukashenko to intercept Ryanair flight FR4978 on the Athens-Vilnius route, which was in Belarusian airspace at the time.

After an emergency landing of a few hours at Minsk airport and the control of the aircraft and its passengers, the Boeing 737-800 left for Lithuania – without Roman Protassevich, arrested by the police with his girlfriend, Sofia SapEga.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, for his part, claimed that agents of the Belarusian security services, the KGB, may have been on board flight FR4978, also denouncing an act of “piracy” supported by Belarus .