Russia Monitor is a review of the most important events related to Russian internal and external security, as well as its foreign policies.
Date: 24 May 2021
Lukashenko Accused Of Hijacking The Plane, Putin Invites Him to Further Repression
Forcing a passenger jet flying from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk to detain a passenger is an act of state terror of the Belarusian regime. A brazen KGB operation would not have been possible without the approval––and perhaps the aid––of the Russian special agencies. Vladimir Putin has responded to Western weakness, also that of Joe Biden who decided not to impede the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
A Ryanair jet was en route from Athens to Vilnius. Minsk confirmed that Lukashenko ordered his military to scramble a Mig-29 fighter to escort the plane that ultimately landed at a Minsk airport after a bomb threat. After the diverted plane landed in the capital of Belarus, Belarusian authorities detained the exiled reporter Raman Pratasevich. The journalist faces criminal charges in Belarus. No explosives were found on the plane. Pratasevich previously served as the editor-in-chief of opposition news outlet Nexta and then a political outlet hosted on the Telegram messaging app called “Belarus of the Brain,” which the Belarus authorities have labeled as extremist. Reactions from top Kremlin-friendly journalists show that the whole operation was staged by special services. Pratasevich suspected that someone was following him already in Athens airport. If it is true that the Belarusian State Security officers were behind the operation, this will confirm a sharper course in Lukashenko’s policy. The dictator imprisoned opposition leaders or forced them to leave the country, ordered the arrests of prominent ethnic Polish activists, and most recently closed the last independent news outlet in Belarus. The brazen effort to divert the Ryanair airliner may show how much Lukashenko feels unpunished. This would be difficult to imagine happening without consent from Putin. At the same time, the Russian leader had gotten so many hints that the West would turn a blind eye to many belligerent actions from Russia and its ally Belarus in exchange for a promise to “normalize” relations with Moscow. The reaction of the West to the hijacking of the jet by Lukashenko will test the true intention of the United States or the European Union from Moscow’s point of view. If no firm steps are taken, Putin will feel encouraged to act more aggressively, not towards top Western nations, but Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic countries, or even Poland.
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