In his first public statement on the hijacking of the Ryanair flight, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko said he acted legitimately to protect his country from a bomb threat sent from Switzerland.
On Monday, his government attributed the threat to Hamas, the Islamic group that rules Gaza, and denied the version. “Hamas, not Hamas – it doesn’t matter today. The crew had time to make a decision. We had 123 passengers from different countries and 6 threatened crew members, ”Lukashenko said in a speech to parliamentarians published by the official Belta news agency.
According to him, it was the Ryanair pilot who decided to land in Minsk, when it was much closer to Vilnius airport and two minutes from the crossing in Lithuanian airspace. Lukashenko suggested that the Lithuanians refused to receive the plane.
The Belarusian dictator also justified the interception of the Boeing by a military fighter – an action which has been described as “kidnapping” and “piracy” by foreign governments: “The plane turned around near BelNPP [usina nuclear na Belarus]. If there really had been a bomb, what would we have done? “
He said the dispatch of the hunters followed all regulations and was only carried out after the change of route to Minsk. “I couldn’t let the plane crash into the heads of our people,” he said.
According to international aviation law, self-defense – which would be characterized in the event of a bomb threat – is one of the few exceptions in which a country can intercept a civilian flight.
International governments and Lukashenko opponents say the story is a hoax, however, and that the dictator’s real goal was to arrest journalist Roman Protassevich, who was on board.
In the speech, Lukashenko cited the need to fight “criminals” and that there was “a terrorist who was going to start a bloody rebellion” on the plane.
afraid of being killed
One of the founders of Nexta, the chain of messaging applications that became crucial during the protests against the elections last year – deemed rigged – Protassevich, 26, is charged with three crimes punishable by 15 years in prison.
He has also been listed as a terrorist by the KGB (Belarusian Secret Service) – if accused of terrorism he could, in theory, face the death penalty.
His girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, 23, was also arrested, although she was not suspected on Sunday. On Tuesday (25), she was charged with disturbing public order and was placed in preventive detention for two months.
In Wednesday’s speech, Lukashenko hinted that Nexta – edited in Poland by Belarusian journalists who went into exile after threats – is sponsored by foreign countries seeking to destabilize Belarus and then Russia.
“A well-known channel which has started to cover Belarusian issues, but not in our country, is already working full steam against Russia, thus showing the real objective of Western strategists,” he said.
The Belarusian dictator meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Friday, who analysts say should take advantage of Belarus’ internal and external crises to increase his influence over the country. .
For pundits on relations between the two countries, such as Piotr Kuznetsov, founder of Strong News and Mogilev.Online, rising Western opposition to Lukashenko leaves Putin in a position to charge more to maintain his support for the Belarusian dictator.
Kuznetsov also said Sunday’s incident was a turning point for Western countries. “They stopped seeing Belarus as just a human rights issue. Lukashenko’s action this time affected European Union interests and security issues in the region.
The opinion is shared by Belarusian political scientist Artem Shraibman: “Lukashenko’s international isolation was growing, but he reached a new level, bridges burned forever”. According to him, the dictator may not have foreseen the scale of the international reaction, because “all the energy is directed towards a single point: to neutralize the internal enemies”.
But the diversion of the leak made the regime pass “from the category of violators of European standards to that of violators of peace and security; the country has become much more toxic than ever to any form of international cooperation, ”he said.
investigation and sanctions
In recent days, the EU, UK, US and NATO (military alliance of European and North American countries) have called for the immediate release of the two prisoners and are considering sanctions against the Lukashenko regime and the companies linked to it. In a statement, the North Atlantic Council – NATO’s main political body – called for an urgent independent investigation into the hijacking of the Ryanair flight.
Several airlines have stopped flying over Belarus since Sunday, and on Wednesday the European aviation regulator (Easa) asked all airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace for safety reasons.
According to Belarusian media, the regime could lose around 150 million US dollars (797 million BRL) to air boycotts, even if the reduction in flights over Belarus is offset by Russian airlines, which now represent about 30% of traffic control revenue.
Before the pandemic, there were 300,000 flights per year and the Minsk air traffic control center served 980 companies from 100 countries around the world, 83% with overflights and 17% with landings in Belarus. The aviation sector, including traffic control, landings in the country and Belavia’s income, accounts for around 2% of the country’s GDP.
The sanctions are also expected to affect other airlines operating in international transport and trade, such as RubiStar, Rada Airlines, Genex and state-owned Transaviaexport. The latter, the most important of them, would lose an estimated annual turnover of around 150 million reais (with profits of 9 million reais).
The diplomatic split with Latvia is likely to cause further damage, from the ports from which about a third of Belarusian oil – one of its main sources of foreign exchange – is exported.
The sanctions have already affected the flow of passengers on Wednesday. In the early afternoon, a Belavia plane traveling from Minsk to Barcelona with 54 passengers failed to cross the Polish border and flew over the sky for nearly two hours to waste fuel before returning to the airport starting point.
According to the airline, three minutes before takeoff, the French aviation authorities manually deactivated the flight plan without notifying Belarus. The information that it would not be possible to proceed was transmitted by the Polish controllers, forcing the plane to turn back.