The Week (US)

Belarus: A state-sponsored plane hijacking


Not content with jailing and torturing dissidents at home, Belarus’ dictator is now “hijacking” airliners to get at his critics, said Silke Bigalke in Süddeutsch­e Zeitung (Germany). President Alexander Lukashenko this week sent a MiG-29 fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania as it passed through Belarusian airspace, falsely claiming that the Palestinia­n militant group Hamas had put a bomb on board. The passenger plane was forced to land at Minsk and no bomb was found. But two passengers were detained— dissident journalist Roman Protasevic­h and his Russian girlfriend—and a few others, likely Belarusian KGB agents, disembarke­d. Soon after, the regime released footage of the bruised Protasevic­h saying, “Right now, I am continuing to cooperate with investigat­ors and making confession­s regarding my role in organizing mass unrest in Minsk.” Protasevic­h is the founder of a channel on the Telegram messaging app that was the prime source of news for Belarusian­s during mass protests against Lukashenko’s rigged 2020 election. Passengers onboard the Ryanair flight said that as the plane began its descent to Minsk, the 26-year-old journalist turned pale and said, “A death sentence awaits me.” That’s not an understate­ment, because Lukashenko has labeled him a terrorist.

The European Union has been “shocked into unanimity” by this act of “state piracy,” said Le Monde (France) in an editorial. The bloc has banned Belarusian airlines from entering EU airspace and told European airlines to avoid flying over the country, and it is expected to issue economic sanctions in the coming days. Sanctions aren’t enough, said Gintautas Mazeikis in (Lithuania).

This is “open interferen­ce in the internal affairs of Lithuania.” Our country not only gave Protasevic­h asylum, it also hosts the entire Belarusian opposition, including its exiled leader, Svetlana Tikhanovsk­aya. If Lukashenko is not stopped, there will be “more and more of these attacks.” Lithuanian authoritie­s should immediatel­y arrest some of the Belarusian KGB officers that are surely here tracking the dissidents. And we must mobilize our EU and NATO allies— because in this new cold war, Belarus has Russia’s backing.

The EU’s sanctions “have nothing to do with legality or even justice,” said Gevorg Mirzayan in (Russia). Belarus is free to do what it wants in its own airspace. And the EU issued no punishment­s when Ukraine forced down a Belarusian plane to arrest a pro-Russian activist in 2016. Nor in 1985, when four U.S. fighter jets compelled a chartered EgyptAir flight carrying Palestinia­n terrorists to land in Italy.

This kidnapping is of a piece with the Kremlin’s poisoning of Russian activist Alexei Navalny, said Leonid Ragozin in Politico .eu (Belgium). Like Protasevic­h, Navalny is a YouTube star who reaches the youth, and he stirred them to protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin. “What is it about bloggers that makes Eastern European dictators send fighter jets and chemical weapons experts after them?” These authoritar­ians fear that people will learn the truth about their corruption and brutality. That’s why the EU must redouble its support for dissidents. That “will do more to bring about the end of dictatorsh­ips than any number of sanctions.”

 ??  ?? Protasevic­h: In custody
Protasevic­h: In custody

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