Don’t fly over Belarus

SuperMatt

Site Master
Posts
7,690
Reaction score
14,520
This is insane:


A journalist that the dictator of Belarus (Lukashenko) disliked was on the plane, so he launched a fighter jet to force it to land, then told all 170 passengers there was a bomb threat. There was no bomb, of course. Everybody on the plane was delayed over 7 hours. The journalist was arrested.

This is a clear violation of international law, but I wonder if anything can be done. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t want any flights going over Belarus as long as Lukashenko is in power.
 

Scepticalscribe

Site Master
Vaccinated
Posts
6,361
Reaction score
9,098
Interesting topic, about an unusually wretched country (nick-named "Europe's last dictatorship") that I happen to know pretty well, as I have observed several elections there over the past twenty years.

Excellent idea for a thread.

I want to give this some thought, as it is an astonishing (and appalling) action, one that cannot fail to have consequences for a country that is already subject to pretty severe sanctions on the part of the EU.
 

SuperMatt

Site Master
Posts
7,690
Reaction score
14,520
Interesting topic, about an unusually wretched country (nick-named "Europe's last dictatorship") that I happen to know pretty well, as I have observed several elections there over the past twenty years.

Excellent idea for a thread.

I want to give this some thought, as it is an astonishing (and appalling) action, one that cannot fail to have consequences for a country that is already subject to pretty severe sanctions on the part of the EU.
Especially since neither the origin nor the destination was in Belarus (Greece to Lithuania)
 

Thomas Veil

Suspended
Posts
3,450
Reaction score
6,796
I wonder how they knew the journalist would be on that plane. I mean, it’s not like flight manifests are public documents.
 

Scepticalscribe

Site Master
Vaccinated
Posts
6,361
Reaction score
9,098
Especially since neither the origin nor the destination was in Belarus (Greece to Lithuania)

Astonishing that the flight was from one EU country (Athens in Greece) to another (Vilnius in Lithuania).

Well, Minsk is around half an hour by air from Vilnius, but this is still an extraordinary story.
 

Thomas Veil

Suspended
Posts
3,450
Reaction score
6,796
The Ryanair CEO, who can see the manifest, says five or six people got off the flight but only two were arrested, suggesting the others were KGB agents. This of course would indicate that Pratasevich was being tailed and spied on even before he boarded the flight.

 

Scepticalscribe

Site Master
Vaccinated
Posts
6,361
Reaction score
9,098
The Ryanair CEO, who can see the manifest, says five or six people got off the flight but only two were arrested, suggesting the others were KGB agents. This of course would indicate that Pratasevich was being tailed and spied on even before he boarded the flight.


Michael O'Leary has already suggested this on Irish radio, while yesterday, Roman Protasevich himself had reported that he was being tailed in Athens airport.

However, not only is the action astounding - the timing is extraordinary.

It seems to me that Alexander Lukashenko has over-reached himself, or has arrived at that place - common to all dictators, at a late stage in their rule, because there is nobody left who will, or can, take issue with them, or counsel restraint on them, for all internal dissent (irrespective of whether it is within or without the administration) has been silenced, imprisoned, or exiled - where he is of the opinion that there is nothing he cannot do without suffering consequences.

This evening, well before this crisis erupted, and entirely independent of it, the EU Council (the EU Prime Ministers) were (and are) and had already been scheduled to meet.

In any case, Lukashenko's action in hijacking of the plane has ensured that this topic has now been driven to the very top of their (the EU Council's) agenda. It is inconceivable that there will not be further action taken (by the EU, collectively) against Belarus - and sanctions on Belarus are already extensive and strictly enforced - with Lithuania, and probably Poland, playing leading roles.
 
Last edited:

Scepticalscribe

Site Master
Vaccinated
Posts
6,361
Reaction score
9,098
Tonight, the EU has agreed to impose further fresh sanctions on Belarus (and on individuals within Belarus), to deny use of EU airspace and prevent access to EU airports to aircraft from Belarus, and called on EU carriers to avoid Belarusian airspace.

Ukraine (which also borders Belarus, but is not a member state of the EU) has stated that it will also implement these measures.

The UK - which has left the EU - has told all British planes to cease flying over Belarusian airspace and has also suspended the operating permit of the Belavia, the state-owned airline of Belarus, in the UK.
 

Scepticalscribe

Site Master
Vaccinated
Posts
6,361
Reaction score
9,098
And it also appears that the unfortunate journalist at the heart of this story, Roman Protasevich, - who was removed, according to eyewitnesses among his fellow passengers "trembling" and terrified from the plane yesterday, saying that he thought he would be killed, has since played a starring role in a police video released this evening.

Apparently, Mr Protasevich - whose face bore marks of what appeared to be some bruising - confessed to inciting mass riots (a charge which carries a prison sentence of 15 years), stressed that he has "no problems with his health" (in detention), and that police are treating him "absolutely correctly" and "in accordance with the law", but that he is busy "currently continuing to cooperate with the investigation" and is "giving a confession" to (the charge of) inciting mass riots.
 

SuperMatt

Site Master
Posts
7,690
Reaction score
14,520
And it also appears that the unfortunate journalist at the heart of this story, Roman Protasevich, - who was removed, according to eyewitnesses among his fellow passengers "trembling" and terrified from the plane yesterday, saying that he thought he would be killed, has since played a starring role in a police video released this evening.

Apparently, Mr Protasevich - whose face bore marks of what appeared to be some bruising - confessed to inciting mass riots (a charge which carries a prison sentence of 15 years), stressed that he has "no problems with his health" (in detention), and that police are treating him "absolutely correctly" and "in accordance with the law", but that he is busy "currently continuing to cooperate with the investigation" and is "giving a confession" to (the charge of) inciting mass riots.
Based on this, I wager he was coerced into the confession and has chosen to save his life by confessing. He felt certain he would be executed.
 
U

User.45

Guest
Tonight, the EU has agreed to impose further fresh sanctions on Belarus (and on individuals within Belarus), to deny use of EU airspace and prevent access to EU airports to aircraft from Belarus, and called on EU carriers to avoid Belarusian airspace.

Ukraine (which also borders Belarus, but is not a member state of the EU) has stated that it will also implement these measures.

The UK - which has left the EU - has told all British planes to cease flying over Belarusian airspace and has also suspended the operating permit of the Belavia, the state-owned airline of Belarus, in the UK.
Lukashenko is losing his grip. He may not be that old (he's 67), but being a dictator is a high stress job that usually comes with shortened life-expectancy. So it's only a matter of time, and then a matter of Russia's next step. Democracies may have a recurring every 4-5y vulnerability, but authoritarian regimes accumulate at least as much risk in 20-30y increments. We'll see.
 

Scepticalscribe

Site Master
Vaccinated
Posts
6,361
Reaction score
9,098
Based on this, I wager he was coerced into the confession and has chosen to save his life by confessing. He felt certain he would be executed.

Agreed: I think it is pretty clear that this "confession" was coerced from him.

My post was merely reporting what had happened, without offering an (obvious) opinion on the matter.
 

Scepticalscribe

Site Master
Vaccinated
Posts
6,361
Reaction score
9,098
Lukashenko is losing his grip. He may not be that old (he's 67), but being a dictator is a high stress job that usually comes with shortened life-expectancy. So it's only a matter of time, and then a matter of Russia's next step. Democracies may have a recurring every 4-5y vulnerability, but authoritarian regimes accumulate at least as much risk in 20-30y increments. We'll see.

People have been saying this for years, yet his grip on power, and the levers of power, remains sticky and all too strong.

I have worked in that country as an international election observer (twice in a very senior capacity) on four separate occasions since 2004, most recently in 2015, - hence I know the country, its politics, its political culture, its opposition, and its history pretty well - and each and every time, I have been told that "He is losing His grip", (note the capitalisation of the pronoun; that is how "He" is referred to, in conversation, in that country, with some senior interlocutors), and that "the next election", or the one following that, would see Him removed from office.

However, having said that, I do think that, on this occasion, he may have over-reached himself, as the EU was placed in a position where it could not be seen not to react, and it had to be seen to react robustly.

Notwithstanding all of that, I confess that I am rather curious as to what the actual specific trigger was, in the case of Alexander Lukashenko, which prompted this extraordinary action at this particular time, at this precise moment.
 
Last edited:
U

User.45

Guest
People have been saying this for years, yet his grip on power, and the levers of power, remains sticky and all too strong.

I have worked in that country as an international election observer (twice in a very senior capacity) on four separate occasions since 2004, most recently in 2015, - hence I know the country, its politics, its political culture, its opposition, and its history pretty well - and each and every time, I have been told that "He is losing His grip", (note the capitalisation of the pronoun; that is how "He" is referred to, in conversation, in that country, with some senior interlocutors), and that "the next election", or the one following that, would see Him removed from office.

However, having said that, I do think that, on this occasion, he may have over-reached himself, as the EU was placed in a position where it could not be seen not to react, and it had to be seen to react robustly.

Notwithstanding all of that, I confess that I am rather curious as to what the actual trigger was, in the case of Alexander Lukashenko, which prompted this extraordinary action at this particular time, at this precise moment.
He's definitely losing grip on reality. I can't see how this journalist was dangerous enough to Lukashenko to justify the cost of getting his country cut off from air travel and other sanctions. I mentioned it somewhere else, sociopaths get to be alive sociopaths because they are exceptionally good at risk assessment and are opportunistic about their abuses and commit them when they can get away with them without major harm.
 

Scepticalscribe

Site Master
Vaccinated
Posts
6,361
Reaction score
9,098
Among the publications I subscribe to are the EDM - Eurasia Daily Monitor, published by a think tank (the US based Jamestown Foundation).

While in its analysis, the EDM often leans right, (and I don't always - or, even often - agree with their conclusions) it does have excellent sources (in other words, it is rarely wrong on facts) and is almost always well worth a read.

Anyway, I am taking the liberty of posting their piece on Belarus in today's edition: Well worth a close read.

"On May 28, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka paid a visit to Sochi, where he met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin (see EDM, June 1). Nothing groundbreaking was announced in the wake of their meeting; but Lukashenka ostensibly succeeded in selling Putin on his version of events surrounding the hijacking of the Ryanair plane in Belarusian airspace, which carried opposition journalist Roman Protasevich. In the opinion of Russian liberal philosopher Grigory Yudin, Putin willingly perceives “any significant events as integral to the ‘West-against-me’ storyline, which is why Lukashenka usually enjoys carte blanche in explaining any trick of his own, provided it is framed as ‘the West wants to overthrow me, and I defend Smolensk.’ As soon as Lukashenka stepped into this framework last summer, the Kremlin began to support him even in his most insane and gopnik [thug]-style actions [sic]” (Echo Moskvy, May 27).

Meanwhile, Hamas has rejected its alleged involvement in launching the supposed bomb scare that served as a justification for forcing the Ryanair jet to land in Minsk. The Palestinian militant group accused Belarusian authorities of “archaic thinking” and of a lack of understanding that “we now live in a time of free media and public opinion that no longer accepts such methods” (NV, May 24). The CEO of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, called the incident a “premeditated hijacking” (Belsat, May 28).

Some reliable observers suggested that by forcing the passenger plane to land, Minsk was sending a message that it no longer cares about the West’s opinions (Gazetaby, May 24). Of course, if one truly stops respecting another’s opinion, there should be no need for (even starkly unrealistic) explanations either. Nonetheless, Belarus has continued to stick to its cover story, as Lukashenka repeated during his May 26 speech before the parliament and thereafter (BelTA, May 26).

Yet another aspect of irrational thinking on the part of the Belarusian authorities is their firm belief that electronic media is not only instrumental in instigating protests but subsequently plays a determinative role in coordinating and keeping them going. Therefore, in Yudin’s words, the only reason for intercepting the plane was to arrest NEXTA Telegram channel founder Protasevich—not “the leader of the armed underground, not a criminal authority, or a defector who stole secrets, or even an opposition politician, but just a blogger.” However, NEXTA operated long before the beginning of the anti-Lukashenka street rallies on August 9, 2020; it operated during those rallies; and it continues to operate now, even while there are no protests anymore. So Protasevich’s Telegram posts cannot be blamed for producing those rallies. Rather, the demonstrations were sparked by a more “mundane” factor—the complete lack of public trust in the electoral outcome. This distrust was the key reason for tensions running high in society; and when this is the case, anything can ignite passions.

Of course, even ideas with the best of intentions can prove irrational or result in unintended consequences. On May 28, the non-governmental organization (NGO) Reporters Without Borders posited that canceling international flights of Belavia, Belarus’s air carrier, and grounding flights from Europe to Belarus may not be a smart move as it deprives Belarusians of any possibility to leave their country or return home. A similar opinion was voiced by Juergen Trittin from Germany’s Green party. But Trittin further suggested that the European Union should block Belarusian trade in refined oil and potash instead (Deutsche Welle—Russian service, May 26). Yet as Belarusian political commentator Arsen Sivitsky points out, the primary beneficiary of such a move would be Russia. According to Sivitsky, Russian potash producers Uralkhim and Uralkalii are trying their best to persuade the EU to block the activity of their Belarusian competitor Belaruskalii (Svaboda.org, May 29).

Dzianis Melyantsou of the Minsk Dialogue also believes that the closure of the skies over Belarus is a “foolish and emotional” move (Belarus Realist, May 25). After Ukraine joined the EU’s air blockade, Lukashenka did not wait long to declare that Belavia would soon be launching flights from Minsk to Crimea (Belta, June 1). To date, Minsk had never officially recognized the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Russian economist Vladislav Inozemtsev suggests that Western preoccupation with the dramatic events in Belarus has allowed Russia—a serial international law breaking offender—to quietly retreat from the forefront of international attention. Innozemtsev is also bewildered by the efforts of exiled Belarusian opposition leaders to boost Western sanctions on Belarus (Novaya Gazeta, May 27).

“All the retaliatory measures announced by the EU are caused by the intention to protect themselves,” opined Pavel Matsukevich, the former Belarusian charge d’affaires in Switzerland, who resigned in September 2020 in protest against the brutal crackdown in Minsk. “By closing the skies for Belarusian planes and recommending that European carriers avoid the airspace of Belarus, the EU prevents a repetition of an incident similar to that with the Ryanair plane… But this solution has a downside. In the end, who is punished? Not those who were to blame for the incident. First, they punished the national airline, which has nothing to do with it… Second, ordinary Belarusians were punished. If we consider that we live under repressions and dictatorship, the punishment eliminates any opportunity to escape. We were simply cut off, as a kind of threat to the EU.” Matsukevich used even stronger language to condemn the act by the Latvian authorities, who, on May 24, replaced the official green-red flag of Belarus with the white-red-white banner that the Belarusian opposition wants to become the state flag. The former flag was exhibited among other flags of states whose teams participate in the world ice hockey cup underway in Riga. Matsukevich called this “an act of hooliganism” (Gazetaby, May 27). Immediately, Minsk expelled the Latvian ambassador and all of the embassy’s diplomatic staff. Interestingly, Alexander Nosovich, a Kaliningrad-based Russian journalist with Belarusian roots, who was declared persona non-grata in Latvia and Lithuania, opined that “the Baltic States are the most useful little helpers in our fight to strengthen the Union State of Russia and Belarus” (Facebook.com, May 25).

By all accounts, a British newspaper, The Guardian, is on target by suggesting that “the West can disapprove all it likes of leaders like Belarus’s Lukashenko, but only engagement will change anything… Sanctions satisfy interventionists wanting ‘something to be done.’ They are ‘look-no-hands’ policy for armchair diplomats” (The Guardian, May 27)."
 
Last edited:

SuperMatt

Site Master
Posts
7,690
Reaction score
14,520
Among the publications I subscribe to are the EDM - Eurasia Daily Monitor, published by a think tank (the US based Jamestown Foundation).

While in its analysis, the EDM often leans right, (and I don't always - or, even often - agree with their conclusions) it does have excellent sources (in other words, it is rarely wrong on facts) and is often well worth a read.

Anyway, I am taking the liberty of posting their piece on Belarus in today's edition: Well worth a close read.

"On May 28, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka paid a visit to Sochi, where he met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin (see EDM, June 1). Nothing groundbreaking was announced in the wake of their meeting; but Lukashenka ostensibly succeeded in selling Putin on his version of events surrounding the hijacking of the Ryanair plane in Belarusian airspace, which carried opposition journalist Roman Protasevich. In the opinion of Russian liberal philosopher Grigory Yudin, Putin willingly perceives “any significant events as integral to the ‘West-against-me’ storyline, which is why Lukashenka usually enjoys carte blanche in explaining any trick of his own, provided it is framed as ‘the West wants to overthrow me, and I defend Smolensk.’ As soon as Lukashenka stepped into this framework last summer, the Kremlin began to support him even in his most insane and gopnik [thug]-style actions [sic]” (Echo Moskvy, May 27).

Meanwhile, Hamas has rejected its alleged involvement in launching the supposed bomb scare that served as a justification for forcing the Ryanair jet to land in Minsk. The Palestinian militant group accused Belarusian authorities of “archaic thinking” and of a lack of understanding that “we now live in a time of free media and public opinion that no longer accepts such methods” (NV, May 24). The CEO of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, called the incident a “premeditated hijacking” (Belsat, May 28).

Some reliable observers suggested that by forcing the passenger plane to land, Minsk was sending a message that it no longer cares about the West’s opinions (Gazetaby, May 24). Of course, if one truly stops respecting another’s opinion, there should be no need for (even starkly unrealistic) explanations either. Nonetheless, Belarus has continued to stick to its cover story, as Lukashenka repeated during his May 26 speech before the parliament and thereafter (BelTA, May 26).

Yet another aspect of irrational thinking on the part of the Belarusian authorities is their firm belief that electronic media is not only instrumental in instigating protests but subsequently plays a determinative role in coordinating and keeping them going. Therefore, in Yudin’s words, the only reason for intercepting the plane was to arrest NEXTA Telegram channel founder Protasevich—not “the leader of the armed underground, not a criminal authority, or a defector who stole secrets, or even an opposition politician, but just a blogger.” However, NEXTA operated long before the beginning of the anti-Lukashenka street rallies on August 9, 2020; it operated during those rallies; and it continues to operate now, even while there are no protests anymore. So Protasevich’s Telegram posts cannot be blamed for producing those rallies. Rather, the demonstrations were sparked by a more “mundane” factor—the complete lack of public trust in the electoral outcome. This distrust was the key reason for tensions running high in society; and when this is the case, anything can ignite passions.

Of course, even ideas with the best of intentions can prove irrational or result in unintended consequences. On May 28, the non-governmental organization (NGO) Reporters Without Borders posited that canceling international flights of Belavia, Belarus’s air carrier, and grounding flights from Europe to Belarus may not be a smart move as it deprives Belarusians of any possibility to leave their country or return home. A similar opinion was voiced by Juergen Trittin from Germany’s Green party. But Trittin further suggested that the European Union should block Belarusian trade in refined oil and potash instead (Deutsche Welle—Russian service, May 26). Yet as Belarusian political commentator Arsen Sivitsky points out, the primary beneficiary of such a move would be Russia. According to Sivitsky, Russian potash producers Uralkhim and Uralkalii are trying their best to persuade the EU to block the activity of their Belarusian competitor Belaruskalii (Svaboda.org, May 29).

Dzianis Melyantsou of the Minsk Dialogue also believes that the closure of the skies over Belarus is a “foolish and emotional” move (Belarus Realist, May 25). After Ukraine joined the EU’s air blockade, Lukashenka did not wait long to declare that Belavia would soon be launching flights from Minsk to Crimea (Belta, June 1). To date, Minsk had never officially recognized the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Russian economist Vladislav Inozemtsev suggests that Western preoccupation with the dramatic events in Belarus has allowed Russia—a serial international law breaking offender—to quietly retreat from the forefront of international attention. Innozemtsev is also bewildered by the efforts of exiled Belarusian opposition leaders to boost Western sanctions on Belarus (Novaya Gazeta, May 27).

“All the retaliatory measures announced by the EU are caused by the intention to protect themselves,” opined Pavel Matsukevich, the former Belarusian charge d’affaires in Switzerland, who resigned in September 2020 in protest against the brutal crackdown in Minsk. “By closing the skies for Belarusian planes and recommending that European carriers avoid the airspace of Belarus, the EU prevents a repetition of an incident similar to that with the Ryanair plane… But this solution has a downside. In the end, who is punished? Not those who were to blame for the incident. First, they punished the national airline, which has nothing to do with it… Second, ordinary Belarusians were punished. If we consider that we live under repressions and dictatorship, the punishment eliminates any opportunity to escape. We were simply cut off, as a kind of threat to the EU.” Matsukevich used even stronger language to condemn the act by the Latvian authorities, who, on May 24, replaced the official green-red flag of Belarus with the white-red-white banner that the Belarusian opposition wants to become the state flag. The former flag was exhibited among other flags of states whose teams participate in the world ice hockey cup underway in Riga. Matsukevich called this “an act of hooliganism” (Gazetaby, May 27). Immediately, Minsk expelled the Latvian ambassador and all of the embassy’s diplomatic staff. Interestingly, Alexander Nosovich, a Kaliningrad-based Russian journalist with Belarusian roots, who was declared persona non-grata in Latvia and Lithuania, opined that “the Baltic States are the most useful little helpers in our fight to strengthen the Union State of Russia and Belarus” (Facebook.com, May 25).

By all accounts, a British newspaper, The Guardian, is on target by suggesting that “the West can disapprove all it likes of leaders like Belarus’s Lukashenko, but only engagement will change anything… Sanctions satisfy interventionists wanting ‘something to be done.’ They are ‘look-no-hands’ policy for armchair diplomats” (The Guardian, May 27)."
Thanks for sharing this. It’s great to see different perspectives. I completely understand the desire to divert flights from Belarusian airspace… what if the hijacking had gone badly and the plane crashed? But I hadn’t considered the effect it might have on people wanting to leave.
 

Scepticalscribe

Site Master
Vaccinated
Posts
6,361
Reaction score
9,098
Thanks for sharing this. It’s great to see different perspectives. I completely understand the desire to divert flights from Belarusian airspace… what if the hijacking had gone badly and the plane crashed? But I hadn’t considered the effect it might have on people wanting to leave.

Neither had I, to be honest.

That is one of the reasons why I decided to post this piece - which I think balanced, intelligent, informed, subtle and nuanced - in its entirety.

Note the impressive array of credible sources (and not just predictable ones, either) cited.
 
Last edited:
Top Bottom