Capping off a week wherein both Belarus and its powerful ally Russia are once again in a diplomatic and sanctions battle with the EU, this time involving flight paths being blocked following last Sunday’s Ryanair forced diversion incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Sochi.
Putin reportedly welcomed Lukashenko to the Friday meeting with the remarks: “Thank you for coming here, as we agreed even before the current outburst of emotions,” He emphasized further, “Yes, it is an outburst of emotions,” before saying, “But we have topics to discuss without these developments.”
European carriers have been avoiding Belarusian airspace after widespread condemnation of what was dubbed “state hijacking” after Belarusian MiG fighters escorted the Lithuania-bound flight to Minsk where authorities grabbed anti-Lushenko activist and journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend. But by mid-week Russia began blocking European carriers into its airspace which were observed intentionally flying around Belarus’ airspace.
The whole saga and unusual fallout of tit-for-tat flight bans (including Belarusian state carrier Belavia being banned this week in EU airspace) is what’s being dismissed by Putin and Lukashenko as a mere “outburst of emotions” by the West.
Putin’s official press release following the meeting with Belarus’ president, who’s ruled the former Soviet nation for 27 years, also called out the West for its hypocrisy and double standards, specifically highlighting the 2013 Edward Snowden case. As TASS details of Putin’s statements:
“The plane of the Bolivian president was forced to land once. The president was led out of the plane and nothing, silence,” the head of state said during the discussion of a Ryanair flight landing in Minsk.
On July 2, 2013, the plane with Morales aboard, who was the president of Bolivia at the time, returning from Moscow’s Gas Exporting Countries Forum, was forced to make an unscheduled landing in Austria’s capital. This happened after several European countries – Spain, Italy, Portugal and France – recalled the plane’s permit to cross their airspace.
It was thought his aircraft was secretly transporting Snowden to Latin America where he might be offered asylum, and safety outside the reaches of US authorities which were seeking him across the globe after he’d fled Hong Kong. Of course, he ended up in Russia and gained asylum.
Russia hawks were angered by casual scenes of the two leaders getting chummy and relaxing by the Black Sea, as in the below example…
Putin and Lukashenko bro-ing out in Sochi today, enjoying some dolphins from the deck of the Russian president’s yacht. Meanwhile, dozens of political prisoners caught up in their crackdowns are languishing in Russian and Belarusian jails. pic.twitter.com/Xc9D1iCkRo
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) May 29, 2021
Currently the EU is mulling an expanded package of new sanctions against the Lukashenko government, something the US is also said to be preparing in coordination. But at the same time, Putin pledged that the two countries will pursue “closer ties” while sitting alongside Belarus’ leader.