On Monday, Belarus pulled quite a stunt as it diverted a Ryanair flight about to land in Lithuania’s capital from Athens. The official reason stated by the Lukashenko regime for ‘diverting’ and forcing the said flight to land was a “bomb scare”. However, as the flight – accompanied by a Belarusian Mig-29 fighter jet landed in Minsk, a young dissident journalist – Roman Pratasevich was arrested. The Ryanair flight – carrying over 70 people from 12 countries was then allowed to proceed to its destination.
The entire ‘state-sponsored hijacking’ of the flight was orchestrated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko so as to nab a dissident journalist who has been mobilising democratic public sentiment against the 27-year rule of Lukashenko. While the West, particularly the United States and European Union (EU) have vociferously condemned Belarus for its actions, Russia has stood in emphatic support of the Lukashenko regime this time too. Moscow has termed the diversion of the flight by Belarus as an ‘absolutely reasonable’ move.
The Ryanair flight hijacking marks the beginning of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Belarusian adventure. In 2020, when Belarus’ streets were inundated by anti-Lukashenko demonstrators, it was Moscow, which had come to the Belarusian President’s rescue. The Lukashenko regime was, for all practical purposes, saved by Vladimir Putin. Ever since Alexander Lukashenko has missed no opportunity to repay Moscow. Importantly, Belarus – a former Soviet Union member, is not an EU member state.
It goes without saying that Belarus had the authorisation of Vladimir Putin to go ahead with its Ryanair escapade on Monday. Importantly, this authorisation by Russia has put the Biden administration and the EU in quite a spot.
Reactions to Belarus diverting the Lithuania-bound Ryanair flight have not been kind for Minsk. The European Union is infuriated, and the Biden administration is still not being able to make sense of things. But both the power blocs are of the unanimous consensus regarding Lukashenko’s actions being way out of line this time around. The question that therefore becomes is this – what will the EU and the United States do to teach Belarus a lesson?
They will do nothing. The issuance of bombastic statements against Belarus is the most that European nations and the US will limit themselves to. Taking stringent material action against Belarus would result in an exposure that neither the US nor EU want to take a gamble with. Mostly, the exposure here relates to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which only recently secured a sanction waiver by the Biden administration.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which connects Russia with Northern Europe and Germany is meant to severely alter the geopolitical realities in and around Ukraine. It severely discounts Ukraine’s leverage and bargaining power against Moscow. Yet, in order to benefit itself and the region, Germany has decided to do business with Russia rather unabashedly. Meanwhile, the US, owing to unspecified “national interests”, lifted sanctions against the pipeline and the company developing it only recently. Thus, while the US and EU attempt to lead the global crusade against Russia, they themselves are heavily engaging in business with Moscow.
As such, for them to even appear to be taking action against Belarus will raise questions of their standing on the entire issue, when both the Biden administration and EU have been heavily compromised by Moscow with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Therefore, Vladimir Putin – using the pipeline as his leverage, has begun Moscow’s Belarusian adventure, which might very soon translate into the Russian President trying to gain further influence in Europe.