No defence for the indefensible
On May 23, a fighter jet intercepted Ryanair Flight 4978 as it was about to exit Belarussian airspace en route from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania. Citing a supposed bomb threat — apparently contrived by regime agents on board the flight — Belarus air traffic control ordered the Boeing 737 to turn around and land in Minsk.
On the ground, regime police entered the aircraft and abducted opposition journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega. Belarus’s state media reports that the hijacking/abduction was carried out on the personal orders of President Alexander Lukashenko.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken — rightly — called the operation a “shocking act”.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Union Commission, tweeted — correctly — that it was “outrageous and illegal” and that Protasevich “must be released immediately”. That is hard to disagree with.
Unfortunately, neither the US, nor several EU regimes, have any business grandstanding on the matter. They have pulled the same kind of stunt before, at least as recently as eight years ago.
In July 2013, Bolivian president Evo Morales’s flight left Moscow’s Vnukovo airport en route back to La Paz. The Dassault Falcon 900 FAB-001 was forced to land in Austria after being refused entry into French, Italian, Portuguese and Italian airspace.
Why? Because while in Russia, Morales had indicated — in an interview with Russian state media— his willingness to offer asylum to American whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The US Government, in the words of Jen Psaki — White House Press Secretary at present, but back then a State Department spokeswoman — had “been in contact with a range of countries across the world who had any chance of having Mr Snowden land or even transit through their countries”.
Austrian authorities claim they searched the aircraft for Snowden. Bolivian authorities say that Morales refused to allow a search. But either way there is little doubt that several EU regimes, at the request, implicit or explicit, of the US regime, colluded to force a flight — and not just any old regular aircraft, but a diplomatically protected one — to land in an effort to help abduct a political refugee.
No, I’m not defending Lukashenko; he’s not very defensible. I hope that he can be pressured into freeing Protasevich and Sapega alive and unharmed.
But if the “leaders of the free world” didn’t act exactly like Lukashenko whenever it suits them or serves their interests, they would be in a much better position to mobilise global action to achieve that outcome.
• Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Centre for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism