‘Still friends’ Putin bolsters support for ‘isolated’ Belarus as world condemn Lukashenko

Belarus: Expert on whether Putin is 'backing' Lukashenko

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Moscow Times journalist and Russian expert Felix Light said Russian president Vladimir Putin is “signalling to the world” he still sees Belarus as “a friend” following the diversion of a Ryanair flight by Belarus to arrest an opposition journalist. Putin met with his Belarusian counterpart on Friday to show his support. Roman Protasevic was detained by authorities after Belarus scrambled a heavily armed jet to divert his flight to Minsk where he is now being held. The world reacted in fury at the move and have made efforts to “isolate” Belarus by diverting flights around the country but Putin has bolstered support as a show of opposition.

Mr Light told DW News: “Well the Russian position from the start has been rather murky actually.

“There was initially some speculation that perhaps the Russian security services had some kind of direct or indirect role in what happened.

“The noises we have heard from the Russian state have been quite equivocal.”

He added: “There has not been a rush to endorse what Lukashenko has done and so there has been a little bit more nuance.”

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But Mr Light stressed: “It is however clear that Russia is signalling to the world with this meeting in Sochi, and indeed Putin is signalling to the world, that he still sees Lukashenko as a friend in good standing and ally.

“And a partner that can be dealt with.”

The Moscow based journalist added: “So it seems that at a time when much of the world is writing off Lukashenko as an illegitimate president, Russia at least is supporting him in his office.

“If not supporting his actions per se, I think.”

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Last Sunday, Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich was detained by Belarusian authorities after a plane he was on was diverted to the capital of Minsk mid-flight.

Mr Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, a 23-year-old Russian law student, were detained after Belarus sent a heavily armed military jet to escort their Ryanair flight, which was travelling from Athens in Greece to Vilnius in Lithuania, but forced it to land in Minsk.

Mr Protasevich was the editor of Nexta, a channel on the social media channel Telegram highly critical of the Belarusian leader and the regime.

Earlier this week a video emerged from Belarus of the journalist and his girlfriend confessing to criminal charges as they are held in custody, with many fearing Mr Protasevich could face the death penalty.


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The world responded in outrage but Belarusian President Lukashenko reacted angrily to the claims the forced grounding of the Ryanair flight was “air piracy” or a “hijacking”.

He said: “Our ill-wishers both outside and inside Belarus have changed their methods of attack.

“They have crossed many red lines and crossed the boundaries of common sense and human decency.

“They’ve moved from plotting riots, to suffocating us.”

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