As we reported last night, it didn’t take long for a flurry of condemnations from both EU and US officials in the hours after the Ryanair incident over Belarus, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich’s immediate release. Multiple EU leaders described Sunday’s detention of Pratasevich after his commercial aircraft with 170 international passengers on board (including Americans, apparently) was intercepted en route between Greece and Lithuania and a Belarusian warplane forced it to land in Minsk where the dissident journalist was arrested, as tantamount to “hijacking a civilian plane” and “state piracy.”
“This was effectively aviation piracy, state sponsored,” said Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, using language that was echoed by a number of other countries. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said: “It is dangerous, reckless, and naturally the EU is going to act.”
In response, on Monday Russia – which has provided security, diplomatic and financial backing to Lukashenko – accused the West of hypocrisy and dismissed European Union and US outrage at the forced landing. It noted that in 2013 a flight from Moscow carrying Bolivia’s president had been diverted to Austria after reports fugitive U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden might be on board.
In a Facebook post, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Western countries were showing double standards in their reaction to the Ryanair plane grounding incident.
“Either they should be shocked by everything: from the forced landings in Austria of the plane of the president of Bolivia at the request of the United States and in Ukraine after 11 minutes of takeoff of a Belarusian flight with an Antimaidan activist. Or they should not be shocked by similar behavior by others”
While we doubt Russia’s response was a surprise, the European Union said it will consider further sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko’s administration when its leaders meet for dinner in Brussels on Monday night for the start of a two-day summit. One threat under consideration is a limit on international air traffic over Belarus and possibly a restriction of its ground transport.
Countries have called for the release of 26-year-old Roman Protasevich, whose social media feed from exile has been one of the last remaining independent outlets for news about the country since a mass crackdown on dissent last year.