Russia exploits fallout from Ryanair flight while claiming ignorance of journalist arrest | Global report
The Kremlin said on Monday it had no information about Belarus’ decision to force a Ryanair flight to land and arrest a dissident journalist on board, or any Russian involvement – a claim that former US officials and local analysts consider it impossible given the specificity of Moscow. strong ties to the former Soviet state and the cheeky nature of the operation.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, referred to international investigators by refusing to comment on Ryanair’s flight between Greece and Lithuania which was forced by a Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet on Sunday and said Moscow was not involved in the incident.
Authorities in Minsk initially said they were responding to a bomb threat aboard the Irish airliner, although there were later reports of the influential Roman’s arrest. Protasevich, 26, who challenged Belarusian leader Alexandr Lukashenko’s autocratic rule through his reporting and social media presence. He is currently being held by law enforcement officials and could face the death penalty.
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“We just don’t have this information: who flew? Where did they fly from? What are the reasons?” Peskov said, according to a translation of his words. “Therefore, I cannot comment on anything.”
Moscow’s actions indicate it is positioning itself to continue supporting Lukashenko as a way to challenge Western influence in the region, analysts say, following numerous popular protests over the past year that have failed. to overthrow the regime in Minsk, mainly because of Putin’s support. Russia subsequently decided to further integrate Belarus with Russia economically – and now militarily.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told RTE’s Irish News that at least five people left the plane after it landed in Belarus, but only one was arrested. He suggested the rest included intelligence officials. Western intelligence has confirmed that Protasevich’s girlfriend, a Russian citizen, has also been arrested.
However, Peskov objected on Monday morning, saying Russia had no information to share about Russians on board or involvement in the operation by Russian intelligence agents. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later confirmed that Mosow contacted the girlfriend’s father and was working through his embassy in Minsk to gain consular access to her.
Former US officials with extensive experience in combating Russian aggression say Moscow should at least be aware of Belarus’ actions given the close ties between the two countries.
“The Russian and Belarusian air defense systems are fully integrated, so it is fundamentally impossible that the Kremlin, or at least the Russian Federal Air Defense Command, has not had visibility about this,” the lieutenant general told retired Ben Hodges, who until 2018 oversaw all US forces in Europe. He began his command in 2014, when Russia forcibly annexed Crimea. “That doesn’t mean the Kremlin orchestrated or endorsed it, but I would be incredulous at any claim that they weren’t fully aware of it.”
Indeed, other officials in Russia applauded the incident and lambasted the Western hypocrisy seen in its subsequent condemnation.
“What is shocking is that the West is calling the incident in Belarusian airspace” shocking “,” Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, wrote in a post on Facebook. She referred to several conspiracy theories claiming that US officials illegally intercepted international flights, including a 2013 incident in which a plane carrying the Bolivian President of Russia to his home made an emergency landing in Austria, rumored at the time, to be a US operation to capture the runaway hacker Edward. Snowden who was supposed to be on board.
Russia’s public statements on Monday contrast sharply with the response from Western governments, which have expressed outrage at the incident and demanded accountability from Minsk. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote in a tweet: “We strongly condemn the Lukashenka regime’s brazen and shocking act of hijacking a commercial flight and arresting a journalist.” He called for an international investigation and added: “The United States is on the side of the Belarusian people.”
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz called the incident a “blatant act of state terrorism and a blatant violation of international law” in an interview with the BBC on Monday. He added that Polish intelligence agencies had confirmed that at least five people had disembarked, including Protasevich’s girlfriend.
European Union leaders were planning to meet next Monday to consider further sanctions against Belarus.
But local analysts say Russia’s latest moves are likely to isolate Belarus from any punitive measures by the West while protecting Putin’s own attempts to ease Western sanctions.
“[The] The Kremlin will distance itself from Lukashenka in this case at least rhetorically, which means it will support [the] The Belarusian regime is against possible international blockades but will not want to share the responsibility with it, ”said Ivan Kurilla, professor at the European University of Saint Petersburg in Russia.
Kurilla observes that the Kremlin has invested a lot of political capital in negotiating a summit between Putin and President Joe Biden, which has prioritized diplomacy with Russia to balance the new sanctions the United States has imposed on Moscow for recent cyber attacks and other acts of aggression.
“Putin looks better than Lukashenko again,” adds Kurilla. “They are vying for the title of the last European dictator – now at the head of Lukashenko – thus making possible discussions and negotiations with Putin.”
Others believe the latest act of aggression reflects a perception that the Biden administration is unwilling to continue imposing sanctions on Moscow, especially after indicating last week that it would not apply any sanctions on the company building a controversial Russian pipeline across Europe known as the Nord Stream. 2.
“We look weak right now,” said Tim Morrison, who served as the White House’s top Russian adviser to the White House National Security Council in the Trump administration. “Weakness invites aggression.”
“Given the Lukashenko-Putin relationship and the progress of the union talks, it is inconceivable that Putin was not aware,” says Morrison, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. “And it is likely that the Russian state was involved.”