Russia has vowed to defend Belarus if the EU imposes economic sanctions over the grounding of a Ryanair plane and arrest of a dissident blogger.
Many European nations have imposed flight bans on Belarusian aviation over the forced landing of the flight on May 23, and the EU is weighing further sanctions.
Alexander Lukashenko ordered the hijacking of the plane as it crossed Belarusian airspace so he could arrest dissident blogger Roman Protasevich and girlfriend Sofia Sapega.
Russia has vowed to defend Belarus if the EU imposes economic sanctions over the grounding of a Ryanair plane and arrest of a dissident blogger. Pictured: Vladimir Putin with Alexander Lukashenko during a boat trip on Saturday
Vladimir Putin is the only world leader to defend Lukashenko over the hijacking.
On Friday, the EU offered to give £2.8billion to Belarus if Lukashenko steps aside and the country peacefully transitions to democracy.
Belarus’s leading opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Monday that Protasevich had been beaten and tortured in jail.
A lawyer who visited him and his girlfriend said he was fine, ‘but it’s doubtful, because for sure he was tortured, for sure he was beaten’, she told reporters at a news conference in Tallinn.
Tsikhanouskaya offered no evidence for her assertion, though Protasevich’s family has also said a video of him from detention showed signs of torture.
Roman Protasevich (left), a journalist who reported on protests against Lukashenko, and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega (right) have been in jail in Minsk
Lukashenko ordered a Ryanair flight to divert to Minsk so he could arrest a dissident journalist and his girlfriend who were on board (pictured)
Belarus denies abusing detainees.
Sapega, a Russian citizen, will face trial in Belarus, the country’s foreign minister announced today.
Vladimir Makei told Russia’s Kommersant: ‘Most likely, [Sapega’s] trial will take place in Belarus, given that all the information about the subversive activities of certain individuals came into our structures.’
She faces three criminal charges for organising violations of public order, organising mass unrest and inciting hatred, each of whic crries sentences of up to 15 years in prison.
Putin on Saturday raised the topic of Sapega, the TASS news agency reported, citing Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov.
‘President Lukashenko informed his Russian colleague in detail about what happened with the Ryanair flight,’ TASS cited Peskov as saying.
‘On the initiative of the Russian president the topic of the Russian citizen, who was detained, was raised …. Naturally, we are not indifferent to her fate,’ Peskov was cited as saying.
He added the Kremlin would take note of the fact that Sapega also has a Belarusian residency permit.
It come as another Ryanair passenger plane made an emergency landing in Berlin before resuming its journey to Poland, German police said late Sunday without releasing further details.
The flight from Dublin to Krakow made the unexpected diversion after a reported bomb threat, German newspaper Bild Zeitung said.
Vladimir Putin and Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko greeted one another with a warm embrace during a yacht tour in Sochi
With 160 people on board, the flight arrived at the Berlin-Brandenburg airport shortly after 8 pm (1800 GMT) Sunday, remaining on the tarmac into early Monday morning.
A Berlin police spokesperson said that officers had completed their security checks ‘without any danger being detected’.
‘The passengers will resume their journey to Poland on board a spare aeroplane,’ she told AFP, without giving more precise details for the alert.
The flight was emptied with the baggage also searched, German media reported.
‘The Ryanair plane that made an emergency landed reported an air emergency and was therefore immediately given a landing permit at BER,’ airport spokesman Jan-Peter Haack told Bild.
‘The aircraft is currently in a safe position,’ a spokeswoman for the police told the newspaper.
Ursula von der Leyen (right) has offered £2.8bn in development funding to Belarus if Alexander Lukashenko (left) steps aside and the country transitions to democracy
Many observers warn that Lukashenko has become easy prey for the Kremlin, which may use his isolation to push for closer integration.
‘Lukashenko is scared, and the Kremlin may demand payment for its political support by pushing for the introduction of a single currency, the deployment of military bases and more,’ said Valery Karbalevich, an independent Minsk-based analyst.
‘In this situation, it would be much more difficult for him to resist and bargain with Putin.’
Moscow has helped buttress Belarus’ economy with cheap energy supplies and loans, but the ties have often been strained with Lukashenko scolding Moscow for trying to force him to relinquish control over prized economic assets and eventually abandon Belarus’ independence.
In the past, the 66-year-old Belarusian leader has tried to play the West against Russia, raising the prospect of a rapprochement with the EU and the United States to wring more aid out of Moscow.
Such tactics no longer work after Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown on protests last fall in the wake of a vote that handed him a sixth term but opposition said was rigged.
More than 35,000 people were arrested amid the protests and thousands beaten – moves that made him a pariah in the West. The flight’s diversion has now cornered the Belarusian strongman even more.
Some in the West have alleged Russia was involved in the Ryanair flight’s diversion – something Moscow angrily denies – and warned that it could exploit the situation to draw Belarus ever closer and possibly even incorporate it.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis charged Thursday that ‘Lukashenko is playing with Putin, and trying and helping Putin to annex the country,’ adding that ‘we should send the signals to Russia as well that annexation wouldn’t go well with Europe.’
On Friday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denounced the EU’s decision to ask European airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace as ‘utterly irresponsible and threatening passengers’ safety.’
How flights are flying AROUND Belarus after Ryanair flight was hijacked as it crossed airspace
Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko ordered the hijacking of a Ryanair plane as it crossed Belarusian airspace so he could arrest dissident blogger Roman Protasevich and girlfriend Sofia Sapega this week.
Since then, the EU has directed flights around Belarus until the matter is resolved.
The move – which takes longer – is expected to burn more fuel.
Flights paths formulated by the Financial Times show just how out of the way people-carriers are forced to go.
Amsterdam to Bangkok on May 21 vs May 24: The grey line shows the route on May 21 going through Belarus. The purple line shows the route just three days later on May 24