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The Ryanair incident in Belarus



A Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius in late May was intercepted by two Belarusian war jets when it flew over Belarus and was forced to land in Minsk, the capital. This was done with the only purpose to arrest the founder of a Telegram news channel that was critical of the authoritarian government in this country. There were agents from the KGB, the Belarusian secret service, on the flight and they staged a fight with the cabin crew about an alleged bomb threat from inside the plane.


Some transcripts of the conversation between Ryanair pilots and air traffic controllers have been published. It appears that the pilots were not forced to land in Minsk and they took the decision by themselves under a lot of pressure. Ryanair and the pilot have so far declined to post comments or their own cockpit audios


It seems then that Belarus did not act as wildly as Europe and the United States accuse. Moreover, it has also been revealed recently that the arrested journalist was a paramilitary with neo-Nazi affiliations who went to fight in Ukraine in 2015 in the war against pro-Russian separatists.


The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has been in power for 27 years without internal opposition and wanted to be the leader of a Union between Russia and Belarus when Yeltsin was governing in Russia during the 90's. Later, with Putin, Russia became Belarus 'older brother' again, and Lukashenko sought to get closer to the EU to maintain some independence and sovereignty from Russia. But Belarus is very dependent on Russia for its gas trade and subsidies. Moreover, Russia has a military base near Minsk and supplies gas to Europe through pipelines that run across the country. The EU is permanently interested in reaching out to Belarus to reduce Russia's influence on security and energy issues, and promote a human rights agenda.

As a response to all this situation, Europe has imposed hard sanctions towards Belarus. All flights to Minsk have been suspended, the national airline Belavia has been banned in Europe, transactions with Belarusian banks are almost impossible by now, and high ranked officials of the government have been targeted with visa sanctions as well.


Lukashenko's government has always been labelled as the 'last dictatorship in Europe' although this can be disputed with the case of Montenegro's President Milo Dukanovic who has been in power since 1991. Nevertheless, it is true that during the last election in 2020, Lukashenko has been cracking down harshly all the protests that contested his official victory with 80% of the votes, using torture many times and forcing into exile his political opponents.


Europe cannot be too hard against Belarus in order to avoid problems with the gas supplies and because Russia will gain too much influence over Belarus again. At the present time, there is nothing that suggest that the situation in the region will improve.


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