Putin offers support to Belarusian leader amid hijacking scandal

Putin offers support to Belarusian leader amid hijacking scandal

Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko his support in his clash with the West over the forced landing of an airliner from Athens to Vilnius to arrest a journalist.
The West has accused Belarus of piracy after Belarusian air traffic control on Sunday informed the Ryanair pilot of a false bomb threat and that Minsk rushed a MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the plane to the bottom, before arresting Roman Protasevich, journalist and critic of Lukashenko, with his girlfriend.

Both are in prison accused of orchestrating mass riots. Protasevich could be jailed for up to 15 years.

But Putin, a close ally of Lukashenko, on Friday lent his support to the Belarusian leader, warmly welcoming him for talks in the city of Sochi in southern Russia, and agreeing with Lukashenko that the West’s reaction to the incident was “an explosion of emotion”.

“At one point they forced the Bolivian president’s plane to land and took it off the plane and nothing, silence,” Putin said, referring to a 2013 incident in which the plane Evo Morales was forced to land in Austria at a time when the United States was attempting to intercept whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The talks in the Black Sea city of Sochi were held before the plane crash, but come after many European countries imposed flight bans on Belarusian aviation and the European Union considering new sanctions.

Lukashenko told Putin he would show him confidential documents about the Ryanair incident that would help the Russian leader understand what really happened.

“There is always someone who causes us problems. You know them, I will let you know, ”Lukashenko told Putin.

“I have brought some documents so that you can understand what is going on. “

Looking relaxed and smiling, Putin had earlier suggested that the two men bathe, which Lukashenko had accepted.

Russia, a close ally that sees the former Soviet republic of 9.5 million as a strategically important buffer for its west, offered verbal support to Minsk ahead of the meeting, while rejecting speculations that it was herself complicit in the incident.

Moscow says Belarus has shown a desire for transparency in the dispute and called the West’s reaction to the plane incident “shocking”, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accusing it of “demonizing »The Minsk authorities.

Russia and Belarus, which are officially part of a “state of union,” have been in talks for years to further integrate their nations, a process that has long raised fears among Belarus’s besieged opposition that Lukashenko could trade pieces of sovereignty in exchange for Kremlin support.

Putin told Lukashenko that the two men continued to build a union state, but did so regularly, unhurriedly and in a low-key fashion.

In power since 1994, Lukashenko, with the help of Russia, faced the biggest demonstrations of his reign last summer against the rigging of the elections, allegations he denied.

Protests have lost momentum amid a brutal crackdown, but critics plan to stage new ones.


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