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Conflict – Lukashenko complains to Putin about pressure from the West

In view of the new EU sanctions, the Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko complained to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the growing pressure from the West on his country. The state airline Belavia will be punished by EU measures after the forced landing of the Ryanair plane, although it has nothing to do with the incident, said Lukashenko on Friday in Sochi on the Black Sea at a meeting with Putin, which is already the third this year .

Belavia had to discontinue its connections to the EU countries after a decision on flight bans. Western airlines fly around Belarusian airspace.

When he saw Lukashenko again, Putin smiled and criticized the fact that in 2013 the Bolivian President’s plane was forced to land in Austria without any reaction from the EU. “It was quiet at the time,” said Putin, referring to the US operation. The Bolivian plane landed in Vienna-Schwechat because it was assumed that the ex-secret service agent Edward Snowden, wanted by the USA, was on board. Snowden lives in Russia.

The confrontation between Belarus and the West has recently come to a head because Lukashenko had the Ryanair passenger plane brought to the ground on Sunday in order to have one of his opponents arrested. The opposition activist and blogger Roman Protassevich was arrested after the forced landing. His girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who is a Russian citizen, was arrested with him. The EU imposed new sanctions on Minsk for interfering with air traffic and demanded the release of Protassevich, Sapega and hundreds of other political prisoners.

Lukashenko told Putin that he had brought documents in his briefcase to prove how attempts are being made to destabilize the situation in Belarus as it did in August last year. At that time there had been mass protests against the long-term ruler, whom his critics described 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 emphasized 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,” said Putin, who also invited Lukashenko to swim on the Black Sea coast. The cooperation should be continued. Another topic was the union between Russia and Belarus sought by Moscow. Putin said that integration was progressing, but without hurry. “You and I are involved in the issues of building the Union state, we are doing this, as we have agreed, on the premise of safeguarding the interests of both Belarus and Russia,” said the Russian President.

In contrast, the Belarusian opposition and the West continue to call for Lukashenko to withdraw and for new elections. The Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya visited the Netherlands on Friday. During a joint press statement in The Hague, Prime Minister Mark Rutte emphasized that Lukashenko was apparently panicking. “The regime is clearly in a panic,” said Rutte. “We will leave no stone unturned.” Tichanovskaya once again asked the EU to be more courageous in taking action against the government in Minsk. The punitive measures against the Belarusian economy discussed by the EU did not go far enough. EU diplomats are currently working on further sanctions targeting the country’s main industries, the potash and oil sectors.

The EU Commission meanwhile presented a plan for a three billion euro support package for Belarus. It is to be activated “as soon as Belarus has initiated a democratic transition,” as the Brussels authority announced on Friday. The three billion package had already been discussed at the EU summit earlier this week, and the EU states are now to discuss it.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said to the Belarusian authorities: “No amount of repression, brutality or coercion will give your authoritarian regime any legitimacy.” You can also hear and see the desire of the Belarusian people for change, democracy and a good future. As soon as a peaceful democratic transition is initiated in the country, the EU will be there to accompany it, said von der Leyen. 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. Both Austrian Airlines and French Air France had to cancel flights to the Russian capital due to a lack of approval from Moscow. Russia had denied European airlines alternative routes – bypassing Belarus – to Moscow.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov spoke on Friday of “technical problems” that should be resolved. Air traffic between the EU and Russia should therefore run without hindrances regardless of the dispute with Belarus. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry criticizes the EU’s recommendation to avoid Belarusian airspace. Ministry spokeswoman Maria Sakharova wrote on Facebook: “What the Westerners have done to ban flights through the airspace of Belarus for political reasons is a complete irresponsibility that endangers the safety of passengers.”

According to its own statements, Russia is supporting an international investigation into the controversial Ryanair forced landing. There were contradictions in Lukashenko’s first statements that he had acted because of a bomb threat from Switzerland. The Ryanair plane had been rerouted before the threat was received, as the Protonmail e-mail service confirmed in Geneva on Friday. The alleged warning that Lukashenko relied on to redirect the machine was sent by a server belonging to this service. (apa / dpa / Tass)

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