Lukashenko complains to Putin about pressure from the West | free press

Sochi/Brussels (dpa) – In view of the new EU sanctions, Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko complained to Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin about increasing pressure from the West on his country.

State airline Belavia will be punished with EU measures after the emergency landing of the Ryanair aircraft on Sunday, although that has nothing to do with the incident. Lukashenko said this Friday in Sochi on the Black Sea at the start of the meeting with Putin, the third this year.

Belavia had to end its connections to EU countries after a flight ban decision. Western airlines fly around Belarusian airspace.

Seeing Lukashenko again, Putin smiled and criticized the fact that the Bolivian president’s plane was forced to land in Austria in 2013 without any response from the EU. “It was quiet then,” Putin said, referring to the US operation. The Bolivian plane was forced to make an unplanned landing in Vienna at the time because it was believed that ex-secret agent Edward Snowden, wanted by the US, was on board. Snowden lives in Russia.

The clash between Belarus and the West has recently come to a head as Lukashenko grounded Ryanair’s passenger plane on Sunday to have one of his opponents arrested. Opposition activist and blogger Roman Protassevich was arrested after the emergency landing. His girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who is a Russian citizen, was arrested along with him. The EU imposed new sanctions on Minsk for meddling in air traffic and demanded the release of Protassevich, Sapega and hundreds of other political prisoners.

Lukashenko had called Protassevich a “terrorist”. He also accused the 26-year-old of killing people while fighting alongside Ukrainian fighters in the Donbass conflict zone. Authorities in the separatist region of Luhansk speak of at least six people who allegedly killed Protassevich. State media in Minsk noted that the activist was arrested for this and not for his opposition work. Protassevich’s family dismisses the published photos in connection with the allegations as a forgery and part of a smear campaign.

Lukashenko now told Putin that he had carried documents in his briefcase to prove how efforts are being made to destabilize the situation in Belarus, as in August last year. At the time, there had been mass protests against the long-standing ruler, described by his critics as the ‘last dictator of Europe’. After the controversial presidential election, Putin recognized Lukashenko as the winner, but the EU did not.

The Kremlin chief stressed several times that he supported his colleague in the confrontation with the West. Trade between the two countries has increased, “that’s a good trend,” Putin said, who also invited Lukashenko to swim on the Black Sea coast. The cooperation must continue.

On the other hand, the Belarusian opposition and the West continue to demand a withdrawal of Lukashenko and new elections. The European Commission presented a plan for a three billion euro aid package for Belarus. It should be activated “as soon as Belarus has embarked on a democratic transition”, as the Brussels authority announced on Friday. The three billion package was already discussed at the EU summit earlier this week, and EU countries must now discuss it.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told authorities in Belarus: “No repression, brutality or coercion will give your authoritarian regime any legitimacy.” You also hear and see the desire of the Belarusian people for change, democracy and a good future. Once a peaceful democratic transition in the country gets underway, the EU will be there to guide it, von der Leyen said. The planned aid package is intended to promote the country’s economic recovery and support structural reforms.

Shortly before Lukashenko’s meeting with Putin, individual canceled Moscow flights by European airlines caused confusion. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov spoke on Friday about “technical issues” that need to be resolved. Air traffic between the EU and Russia must therefore be able to proceed unhindered, regardless of the dispute with Belarus.

Earlier, EU foreign affairs representative Josep Borrell had said he was not sure whether these were individual cases or a general new scheme by Russian authorities to force European planes to fly over Belarus. Germany, which had resumed regular air traffic with Russia, was not affected by the problems.

Russia had occasionally refused alternative routes to Moscow – bypassing Belarus – to European airlines. According to the French airline Air France, a flight from Paris had to be canceled on Friday – just like Wednesday. Lufthansa subsidiary Austrian Airlines also had to cancel a flight. On Friday she was able to fly from Vienna to Moscow again.

According to its own statements, Russia is supporting an international investigation into Ryanair’s controversial emergency landing. There were contradictions in Lukashenko’s initial statements that he acted because of a bomb threat from Switzerland. Ryanair’s plane was diverted before the threat was received, Protonmail’s email service confirmed Friday in Geneva, Switzerland. The alleged warning that Lukashenko relied on to redirect the machine was sent by a server associated with this service.

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