May 25, 2021

Belarus Hijacks Plane

“The European Union agreed Monday to impose sanctions on Belarus, including banning its airlines from using the airspace and airports of the 27-nation bloc… Reacting to what EU leaders called a brazen ‘hijacking’ of the Ryanair jetliner flying from Greece to Lithuania on Sunday, they also demanded the immediate release of the journalist, Raman Pratasevich…

“Ryanair said Belarusian flight controllers told the crew there was a bomb threat against the plane as it was crossing through Belarus airspace Sunday and ordered it to land. A Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet was scrambled to escort the plane in a brazen show of force by [Alexander] Lukashenko, who has ruled the country with an iron fist for over a quarter-century. Belarus authorities then arrested the 26-year-old activist, journalist and prominent Lukashenko critic.” AP News

Both sides condemn Lukashenko and call for a forceful response from the US and EU:

“Lukashenko’s actions are violations of international law and the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation which guarantees the right to overfly countries without landing. Forcing down an airliner with a jet fighter to arrest a passenger is a naked act of air piracy and kidnapping. If Lukashenko’s actions are allowed to go unchallenged, it might very well be the end of international air travel as we know it

“Passengers with political enemies would have to consider how close their flights would be to countries where they were persona non grata. Airlines might have to screen passenger manifests for controversial passengers that could provoke an interception. Ultimately, attempts to intercept and divert airliners could lead to shooting on either small or large scales.”
David Thornton, Racket News

“The implications of this state-sponsored hijacking aren’t pretty. A head of state used his military to order the diversion of a civilian flight between two European Union countries. His government lied about a bomb threat. And then it snatched a political opponent who was working in exile. If this is allowed to be a precedent without consequences, expect more such hijackings for the purpose of making political arrests. Imagine how Vladimir Putin or North Korea might interpret this as a license to intercept civilian planes.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“From Russian secret services unleashing nuclear material in the U.K. to Chinese operatives disappearing critics based elsewhere, from Rwandan goon squads smuggling famous opposition figures back home to assassins working at the behest of the Tajik dictator offing critics abroad, dictators have begun realizing that borders are often little more than lines on a map. These operations have been met with muted concern in the West…

“Now, with Lukashenko’s success, those same regimes—the ones entrenched in power, three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union was supposed to usher in an era of democratization—are salivating. A new tool has suddenly appeared in their arsenal. And if there isn’t massive, concerted pushback from the West, we’re going to see repeats of this new tactic from every anti-democratic regime elsewhere in the region—in Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and even in places like Serbia and Hungary. If the West waffles yet again, these kleptocratic dictators will attempt even more brazen acts across Europe, testing just how far they can spread their repression before the West does anything about it.”
Casey Michel, New Republic

“This particular incident is notable because, unlike the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China, Lukashenko has so few levers of influence abroad. Belarus has little trading clout, no important investments in New York or London, no oligarchs who own British soccer teams and help normalize the dictator’s rule overseas…

“That Lukashenko is now willing to falsely detain and possibly endanger a European-owned, European-registered airplane carrying mostly European Union citizens from one EU nation to another means that he is prepared for a total break with Europe—and that he is completely confident of Russian economic and political support when it happens. Already, the head of RT, the Russian state-sponsored international television channel, has tweeted that the hijacking makes her ‘envy’ Belarus. Lukashenko, she wrote, ‘performed beautifully.’ Another senior Russian official called the hijacking ‘feasible and necessary.’”
Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic

“As British foreign secretary Dominic Raab rightly observed, this hijacking would not have occurred without Moscow's approval (the Russian intelligence services now exercise overt control of the Belarusian KGB). If Putin senses that it is possible to intercept passenger airlines and detain his adversaries without significant cost, he will do so. Or he will have supplicant regimes like Belarus do it for him…

“The United States and the EU should immediately restrict the passage of Belarusian air carriers across their airspace and into their airports [as the EU has pledged to do]. They should also go further, introducing sanctions on Belarus's three major exports; petroleum, fertilizers, and cheese. While Russia is Belarus's dominant export destination, accounting for nearly half of Belarus's total export market, Ukraine, Britain, Poland, the Netherlands, and Germany are also key Belarusian export destinations. With the exception of Germany, those nations would likely support a joint sanctions endeavor.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

“Sneaky actions like Belarus’s Ryanair trick are the very nature of grayzone aggression. The grayzone offers the aggressor the opportunity to use any manner of uncouth methods — but since they’re not acts of war, affected countries can’t respond by military force. This reality makes it even more important that Western leaders use the only effective response available: asymmetric retaliation so decisive that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his ilk think twice. Most of them, for example, have assets in the West.”
Elisabeth Braw, American Enterprise Institute

The Biden administration should consider imposing a new round of sanctions from those authorized by Congress aimed at those who carry out repression in Belarus. Previous U.S. sanctions have done nothing to change Mr. Lukashenko’s trajectory; it is time to find some that will bite. Support for independent channels and journalists to transmit truth to the people of Belarus — as Mr. Protasevich was doing — should be ramped up, while financial networks and oligarchs who enable Mr. Lukashenko must be targeted… It is time to respond forcefully to this wily and malevolent dictator.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

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