What Belarus did, while illegal, is not unprecedented. The dangerous tactic was pioneered by the same U.S. and E.U. officials now righteously condemning it.
U.S. and E.U. governments are expressing outrage today over the forced landing by Belarus of a passenger jet flying over its airspace on its way to Lithuania. The Ryanair commercial jet, which took off from Athens and was carrying 171 passengers, was just a few miles from the Lithuanian border when a Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet ordered the plane to make a U-turn and land in Minsk, the nation's capital.
On board that Ryanair flight was a leading Belarusian opposition figure, 26-year-old Roman Protasevich, who, fearing arrest, had fled his country in 2019 to live in exile in neighboring Lithuania. The opposition figure had traveled to Athens to attend a conference on economics with Belarus' primary opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and was attempting to return home to Lithuania when the plane was forcibly diverted.
Protasevich, when he was teenager, became a dissident opposed to Belarus' long-time authoritarian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko, and has only intensified his opposition in recent years. When Lukashenko last year was "re-elected" to his sixth term as president in a sham election, the largest and most sustained anti-Lukashenko protests in years erupted.
Protasevich, even while in exile, was a leading oppositional voice, using an anti-Lukashenko channel on Telegram -- one of the few remaining outlets dissidents have to voice criticisms of the regime. For those activities, he was formally charged with various national security crimes, and then, last November, was placed on the official "terrorist list" by Belarus' intelligence service (still called the "KGB" from its days as a Soviet republic).
Lukashenko's own press service said the fighter jet was deployed on orders of the leader himself, telling the Ryanair pilot that they believed there was a bomb or other threat to the plane on board. When the plane landed in Minsk, an hours-long search was conducted and found no bomb or any other instrument that could endanger the plane's safety, and the plane was then permitted to take off and land 30 minutes later at its intended destination in Lithuania. But two passengers were missing.
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[Subscribe to Glenn Greenwald] Glenn Greenwald is a journalist,former constitutional lawyer, and author of four New York Times bestselling books on politics and law. His most recent book, "No Place to Hide," is about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. His forthcoming book, to be published in April, 2021, is about Brazilian history and current politics, with a focus on his experience in reporting a series of expose's in 2019 and 2020 which exposed high-level corruption by powerful officials in the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, which subsequently attempted to prosecute him for that reporting.
Foreign Policy magazine named Greenwald one of the top 100 Global Thinkers for 2013. He was the debut winner, along with "Democracy Now's" Amy Goodman, of the Park Center I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism in 2008, and also received the 2010 Online Journalism Award for his investigative work breaking the story of the abusive detention conditions of Chelsea (more...)