Jade McGlynn

The Belarus hijacking reveals the West’s complacency

An image of Roman Protasevich released by the Belarusian authorities

On Sunday evening an act of appalling state kidnapping took place over the skies of Europe. Four alleged KGB officers and a Soviet-era MIG-29 fighter jet forced a Ryanair flight, travelling between two EU capitals, to divert to Minsk. The hijacking was a carefully planned, outrageous operation.

The Belarusian KGB (sadly not an anachronism) had claimed there was an explosive device onboard, but their real target was Roman Protasevich, a 26-year-old journalist. Protasevich is the founder of the NEXTA telegram channel, which supported and covered the anti-government protests that erupted in Belarus last August after falsified presidential elections. The journalist was arrested alongside his fiancée, with footage emerging late Monday evening of a shaken Protasevich bearing strange marks on his face and admitting to crimes that carried a 15-year prison sentence.

The Belarusian government’s obscene disregard for international law and human rights is the mark of a regime whose domestic turpitude has become an international problem. Aleksandr Lukashenko, President of Belarus for 27 years, is a paranoid dictator who fears the truth and his own people. He is a coward but one who felt emboldened to commit air piracy without much care for the consequences.

Those of us in the West might be better advised to consider our own role in emboldening Lukashenko

Puzzled by this disregard, some have divined the familiar face of Vladimir Putin, placing him as the mastermind behind the hijack. But there is no real evidence for this. Putin and Lukashenko have a testy relationship to put it mildly, as seen last year when Belarus arrested 33 Russian mercenaries and accused them of plotting terrorism.

Rather than re-embark upon the well-trodden ‘all roads lead to Putin’ narrative, those of us in the West might be better advised to consider our own role in emboldening Lukashenko. We have failed to inflict a cost on the ruling elite of an almost three-decade-old dictatorship.

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