'The death penalty awaits me' Belarus diverts plane to arrest journalist
May 24, 2021 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Passengers on board a Ryanair flight that was suddenly diverted as it began its descent into Vilnius, Lithuania, have described their panic as they changed course with no explanation. Flight FR4978 was bound for Lithuania from Greece when it was forced to switch direction for the Belarusian capital Minsk on Sunday so the authorities there could arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, 26. Belarus used a fighter jet to force the plane - bound for Lithuania - to land, claiming a bomb threat. Police took Roman Protasevich away when passengers disembarked.

Roman Protasevich is a Belarusian journalist, photographer, blogger, and activist. He worked as a photographer for the largest Belarusian media, was a fellow of the Vaclav Havel Journalism Program. He actively covered the events of the 2020 elections & the subsequent protests.

Fellow passengers reported he appeared to be fearful for his life considering the cruel treatment of political protesters by Belarusian authorities.

EU leaders are gathering in Brussels today for a summit to discuss their response and possible new sanctions against Belarus. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus Opposition Leader, has called for an immediate investigation of the event.
posted by M. (71 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
According to his mother, he is currently in hospital in critical condition - heart disease. He is 26 years old. https://mobile.twitter.com/tggrove/status/1396873163749924865 .

I feel impotent fury.
posted by Silvery Fish at 10:41 AM on May 24 [26 favorites]

I live in Poland. Russia is trying very hard to push anti-EU propaganda in our media, and many suspect it is also influencing our own government.

It seems the only hope of those protesters and the oppressed citizens is international outrage. I wish I could scream from all the rooftops about this.
posted by M. at 10:47 AM on May 24 [38 favorites]

I wonder what would hypothetically happened if Edward Snowden were on a flight that happened to overfly a NATO country (or, let’s say, a staunch US ally like the UK). Would it have been allowed to pass untrammelled even without this precedent set?

Not sure if it's reasonable of me to make this request but can we please not make this thread about the US?

The young man's girlfriend is being detained and might be facing bad treatment as we speak.

Can we make this thread about Belarus instead?
posted by M. at 10:50 AM on May 24 [132 favorites]

I think it's a reasonable request.
posted by biogeo at 11:04 AM on May 24 [6 favorites]

Ryanair issued a press release that seemingly ignored the fact that a passenger was pulled off their diverted plane, and then after being roundly criticized, issued an update.
posted by msbutah at 11:06 AM on May 24 [14 favorites]

I’ve been following coverage of this in the Reporters without Borders (RSF) Twitter. The RSF page on the condition of journalism in Belarus is a quick, blunt, and chilling read.
Belarus is the most dangerous country in Europe for media personnel. Critical journalists and bloggers are subjected to threats and violence and are arrested in large numbers.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 11:20 AM on May 24 [7 favorites]

Remember that time Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince had a journalist kidnapped, tortured, murdered, and then dismembered and smuggled out of the building? In Turkey, no less, at a Saudi consulate?

Mohammed bin Salman got away with ordering a murder on a journalist. What's a little international air piracy? Why, he's still alive! As far as we know... Although I heard heart disease in 26 year olds in Belorussia is a dangerous condition.

Shit's awful, is what I'm trying to say. And there's no effective international order to hold the murderers and torturers accountable.
posted by Nelson at 11:26 AM on May 24 [11 favorites]

I do wonder if Ryanair’s initial very weak press release was simple cowardice, or in some part them scrambling to make sure they didn’t have any other flights / personnel in harm’s way before they said more. No excuses for them - just curious if more will come out on that given just how “factually correct” but completely inadequate that press release was.

I was just looking at FlightRadar and looks like the only flights currently over Belarus are cargo / flights originating in Belarus or Russia, or private flights, though Vietnam Airlines looks to be about to enter Belarus airspace. Reuters is reporting some airlines are planning to avoid overflying Belarus for the time being.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 11:32 AM on May 24 [5 favorites]

Per the Washington Post: Protasevich, 26, ran the popular social media Telegram channel Nexta, which exposed Belarusian police brutality during the anti-government demonstrations last year. The channel and its sister channel, Nexta Live, have close to 2 million subscribers.

In November, he was added to a list of individuals purportedly involved in terrorist activities. He has been living in exile in Vilnius. Before departing Greece early Sunday, Protasevich said on his Telegram channel that he sensed he was under surveillance. He was detained upon the plane’s landing. He faces more than 12 years in prison.

posted by Iris Gambol at 11:33 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]

So someone on Twitter suggested that the punishment here is being kicked out of the air travel agreements that would allow planes to fly in and out of Belarus.

If they get ejected from the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization, what actual impact would that have on the government -- would it screw up trade, or just inconvenience some officials and rich people briefly?

And the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is a business association of airlines, but Ryanair isn't even a member, so...what leverage does anyone have here?
posted by wenestvedt at 11:33 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

A little more about Roman Protasevich a digital activist who is the founder of the Nexta telegram channel. There were KGB agents on board the Ryan air flight who also disembarkerd in Minsk.
posted by adamvasco at 11:33 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Mod note: A Couple of comments removed for violating the guidelines. Remember to be sensitive to context and engage with what people are really saying
posted by loup (staff) at 11:37 AM on May 24 [8 favorites]

It seems the only hope of those protesters and the oppressed citizens is international outrage.

It seems like this story took far too long to get the attention it deserves, but, at least here in Germany, the outrage at a neighbouring state hijacking an EU aircraft and kidnapping an EU resident has arrived. I dearly hope that this helps turn the tide in some EU countries that still, via cooperation in various projects, softly approve Putin and his cronies in the region (see: Germany, Gerhard Schröder and the Nordstream pipeline). I worry about countries like Poland and the Baltics that share a border with the despots. They’ve been warning the rest of the EU that problems in Ukraine and Belarus and Russia need more attention and this event is yet another example of having a dictator next door.
posted by romanb at 11:37 AM on May 24 [6 favorites]

What a brave human. I am so sorry for him and other journalists who knowingly put their well-beings on the line every single day, and so grateful for them.
posted by treepour at 11:37 AM on May 24 [23 favorites]

I was glad to see the UK government instruct airlines not to go into Belorussian airspace and also ban their national carrier Belavia from the UK. Both good steps. I was horrified watching this on the news today, during the last few years it has been like watching evolution run backwards.
posted by ElasticParrot at 11:44 AM on May 24 [10 favorites]

As for this hijacking and kidnapping by a nation state, the EU response has been far too tepid. Putin and his allies -- including Republicans like Trump -- have been brazen because no one acts to stop them. The obvious first step is Belarus becomes off limits to international air travel, but the response needs to be make clear that there must be consequences, and harsh ones.
posted by Gelatin at 11:48 AM on May 24 [14 favorites]

Is this more likely to be a Belarusian cowboy operation, or Russia poking the EU by proxy?
posted by ryanrs at 11:48 AM on May 24

Pretty shocking there hasn't been more outrage and planes rerouting out of Belarusian airspace. (Belarussian?)
posted by GuyZero at 11:53 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

the EU response has been far too tepid

Especially since Belarus is watching the international response to see if they can get away with executing Protasevich.
posted by ryanrs at 11:54 AM on May 24 [13 favorites]

ryanrs: I'd say the latter more than the former. The first 20 or so years of the Lukashenko regime were characterized by a formula: oppression internally but doing as little as possible to be internationally provocative (or even internationally present).
That changed with last year's protests and Russian intervention. I think we could be seeing the beginning of Belarus becoming to the Russian Federation what North Korea is to the PRC- a pariah state puppet that serves as an attack dog/ distraction with a veneer of plausible deniability to their patron.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 11:59 AM on May 24 [5 favorites]

Is this more likely to be a Belarusian cowboy operation, or Russia poking the EU by proxy?

Belarus is it's own country with a consistently oppressive and antidemocratic government since the break up of the USSR. Framing this as a situation where the Russians are the prime movers (and Belarus as going rogue if not cleared with Russia) seems off to me. I mean, they took action against one of their own dissidents; that's what they do.

I think this is clearly something done on Belarus' own initiative. The relevant question might be whether they checked with Russia first to see if they'd be getting backup.
posted by mark k at 12:04 PM on May 24 [5 favorites]

My heart is broken (and my anxiety on high) for Protasevich, Sofia Sapega and their families.
I don't think I'm smart enough to know the answers, but sanctions are certainly not enough.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 12:08 PM on May 24 [5 favorites]

Apparently there were 126 people on the flight when it left Athens, and 121 when it arrived in Vilnius. So that's Protasevich, his girlfriend, and three others disembarking. Were there three operatives on that flight? I wonder what their instructions were.
posted by rlk at 12:10 PM on May 24 [10 favorites]

seems off to me

It is well understood that Belarus is a puppet of the Russian state, by way of Lukashenko. There is nothing Lukashenko would do, at this scale, without Putin's direct involvement.

It is unfortunate that Russia is a terrorist state that no one can do anything about. Like many journalists before him, Protasevich is another victim of the global reach of this country's terrorist attacks.

Were there three operatives on that flight?

KGB agents, presumably there to ensure his capture.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:14 PM on May 24 [6 favorites]

To me, it seems like the obvious response is for the EU to immediately overreact. Hell, treat it as an act of war. Then if Belarus releases Protasevich, the EU can back down.

Since this isn't happening, it sure looks like there's mixed opinions inside the EU on whether they give a shit.
posted by ryanrs at 12:14 PM on May 24 [10 favorites]

Yes, it's fascinating how all of the post-USSR states are so different now. Here is a good roundup of them, from 2014.
posted by Melismata at 12:17 PM on May 24 [6 favorites]

From adamvasco's link,
Ryanair 'CEO Michael O’Leary has suggested that Belarusian KGB agents were also aboard the aircraft.'
Be careful when throwing around the term KGB. Belarus uses this name for ther security service, but these aren't Russian agents. After the fall of the USSR, their KGB became the FSB. So maybe, as ryanrs suggests, it was merely a Lukashenko 'cowboy operation.'
posted by Rash at 12:19 PM on May 24 [3 favorites]

Like, imagine you're Lukashenko and you're discovering today that the EU and NATO don't have a coherent response planned for this scenario.
posted by ryanrs at 12:20 PM on May 24 [20 favorites]

Hell, treat it as an act of war

War would not improve the situation.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:34 PM on May 24 [6 favorites]

And the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is a business association of airlines, but Ryanair isn't even a member, so...what leverage does anyone have here?

I didn't realize we would have to do this, but we're evidently required to start asking every service we use if, "Will you turn me over to a foreign government while I am using your conveyance?" This shouldn't be a thing.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:34 PM on May 24 [17 favorites]

a summit to discuss their response

"Please stop, or we shall be forced to ask you a second time, possibly even a third time, before letting the matter drop."
posted by aramaic at 12:39 PM on May 24 [9 favorites]

"Will you turn me over to a foreign government while I am using your conveyance?"

You don't need to ask. If a military is sending fighters to intercept your airliner, the answer is always "YES".
posted by ryanrs at 12:43 PM on May 24 [25 favorites]

Given that this happened maybe 36 hours ago, it may be a bit early to confidently proclaim that the EU is useless and plans to do nothing in response. As much as I think some strenuous saber rattling is called for in this situation, I'm not the one who will have military ordnance falling on my head if the situation were to spiral out of control.

I think the most likely response from the EU is to deny first freedom rights to any airline associated with Belarus, declare a bunch of suspected KGB operatives PNG, and maybe expand the sanctions already in place. Applying enough pressure to keep Protasevich alive will probably be seen as a win by the politicians.
posted by wierdo at 12:56 PM on May 24 [6 favorites]

It is well understood that Belarus is a puppet of the Russian state, by way of Lukashenko.

Last fall I happened to catch the Arlekin Players' Zoom production of "Insulted. Belarus(sia)", a new play by Andrei Kureichik, a Belarusian playwright (who was then and is now still living in hiding...and probably right now wondering whether or not he can ever safely board a plane anywhere). The play's a dramatization of the protests in Belarus after the 2020 presidential "election" there, told through the perspectives of a few different characters, including Lukashenko and his son (it is not flattering to them), some protestors, the opposition leader, and a Russian mercenary brought in by Lukashenko. They also did a lengthy Q&A after the show, joined over Zoom by Kureichik (who literally didn't feel it was safe to disclose his location). It was fascinating and a pretty eye-opening look at the situation in Belarus.

Anyways, obviously the playwright has his own viewpoint, and he is in no way attempting to paint an unbiased, purely factual picture of the situation. But the sense I got, from a play written by someone who lived in Belarus under Lukashenko, is that viewing Lukashenko as purely a puppet of the Russians is too much of an oversimplification. He's a tinpot fascist dictator with delusions of grandeur, and while he has certainly relied on military and logistical support from Russia to maintain control over his populace, he's not just sitting around taking orders from Putin. I find it entirely plausible that this was entirely his idea, driven by his ego, and that Russia didn't support it and may or may not even think it was a good idea.

If anybody has an hour or two to kill and wants to check out the play, I definitely think you'll come away from it with a better understanding of the situation in Belarus. There are several productions up on Youtube, including the version I saw (with a brief intro by the playwright) and even one starring Joe Spano as Lukashenko.
posted by mstokes650 at 12:56 PM on May 24 [24 favorites]

Aviation warnings are still in place for eastern Ukraine, fwiw -- avoiding certain regions or airports in this general area has been going on for several years now.
posted by gimonca at 1:10 PM on May 24

If they get ejected from the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization, what actual impact would that have on the government[?]

Hypothetically, countries would have the option to paralyze a non-ICAO Belorussian air industry with safety inspections to ensure their compliance with international standards. However, ICAO’s mandate is to ensure safe international air travel, and it has enrolled even the most despotic countries as member states to this purpose, so political action is unlikely and would probably be fought by ICAO.

There are probably more effective ways to apply pressure anyway, like the airline bans mentioned unthread.
posted by cardboard at 1:57 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Overflying a country enables that country to charge a substantial fee. So, not overflying Belarus is sensible to avoid being hijacked, and it also costs Belarus money.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:00 PM on May 24 [6 favorites]

According to the Washington Post, the EU has now banned flights over Belarus in response.
posted by justkevin at 2:04 PM on May 24 [9 favorites]

FlightRadar24 already showed a BA flight diverting around Belarus to the north this afternoon. I know a family that will have trouble seeing relatives because of this now that Covid restrictions are lifting. Russian state TV has pointed out that the West diverts passenger aircraft all the time, so Putin is supporting super Luka, whether or not the idea came from him.

Probably it will just result in a bit of finger-pointing, sanctions, and counter-sanctions. Bizarre move all round. Who benefits?
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 2:05 PM on May 24

Earlier in this discussion I compared Protasevich's kidnapping to the murder of Jamal Kashoggi. But it strikes me that the better comparison might be to the dozens and dozens of journalists killed in Russia since Putin took power. I'm sure not all of them were murdered directly at the orders of Putin but a good number were and I doubt the Russian state was in a hurry to figure out what happened to most of the rest of them.

But then those killings mostly happened in Russia, to Russians. Russian business. What's so shocking about the Protasevich kidnapping is it happened in European airspace, on an international flight. Belarus reached its hand out of its country, into the sky, and snatch someone in violation of pretty much every international treaty and law.

So maybe the comparison is to the poisoning murders of Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei and Yulia Skripal, in the UK. None of them were journalists, no. But they were attacked (and in Litvenko's case, murdered) by Russian agents while in the UK. Again, a violation of international sovereignty.

I think the minimum appropriate response is to deny all international air travel to Belarus. No airplanes in or out. It hurts the regular citizens of Belarus, to be sure, many of whom are victims of Lukashenko's regime as well. But it's a direct and reasonable response to Belarus' air piracy, the violation of international laws. It seems like a meaningful start.

(BTW, anyone looking for more info on the complicated political situation in Belarus would do well to read the Economist's coverage in the last year. Lukashenko is definitely in power in part with Putin's support but it's more complicated than just being a Russian puppet state.)
posted by Nelson at 2:11 PM on May 24 [11 favorites]

Bizarre move all round. Who benefits?

The benefit is to Lukashenko, Putin, and other despots that have shown activists and journalists that they are not safe, not even in the EU.
posted by ryanrs at 2:30 PM on May 24 [14 favorites]

EU leaders back Belarus sanctions over forced landing of Ryanair plane [Politico]

The leaders’ statement effectively provides the appearance of a quick, forceful response to the incident on Sunday, which several have denounced as a “hijacking” and “state-sponsored terrorism.” But the true extent of the EU’s response will not be known until officials, diplomats and lawyers work through the details of sanctions, which must be drafted to withstand legal challenges.

posted by chavenet at 2:40 PM on May 24

The sadly prescient Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present , has offered some insights and comparisons to how other authoritarian leaders have gone after dissidents.
posted by PhineasGage at 2:44 PM on May 24 [3 favorites]

But the sense I got, from a play written by someone who lived in Belarus under Lukashenko, is that viewing Lukashenko as purely a puppet of the Russians is too much of an oversimplification.

To that point, the following points out how some of those oversimplifications obscure a more complex situation.

Russia’s Assets and Liabilities in Belarus :

Though Russia’s political influence in Minsk is more limited than meets the eye, the Kremlin can still influence preparations for a potential regime change in Belarus. Its absolute priority is stability — Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned this several times after the contested presidential election. In this sense, Moscow is pro-stability, but not necessarily pro-Lukashenka.

Russia’s strategic outlook seems set on the following steps.

First, at least for the time being, keep Lukashenka ["Lukashenka" is the Belarusian spelling of "Lukashenko"] in place. This was the essence of the Putin-Lukashenka meeting in Sochi on September 14. Russia pledged economic assistance and supported constitutional reform — a “neutral” agenda that even the opposition can support. Russia thus signaled support for Belarus, but not directly for its embattled president. Backing Lukashenka too overtly risks antagonizing the opposition and thus stoking anti-Russian sentiment. Any paper agreements between Putin and Lukashenka would be deemed illegitimate — which is why Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that no joint documents would be signed during the Sochi meeting.

Second, extort concessions from a weakened Lukashenka. While further Union State integration may be impossible, Russia can still work in the shadows and obtain political, economic, and security dividends.

Finally, set terms and conditions for the post-Lukashenka era and a controlled transition of power. This would happen once the de facto president exhausts his usefulness, engages in harsher repression, or if the opposition threatens to overthrow him. Russia needs to ensure a stable transition to new leadership that would be equally, if not more, considerate to Moscow and accommodating to Russian interests. The new team in Minsk would not have to be explicitly pro-Kremlin, just sufficiently sympathetic (and not pro-Western).

Though the Kremlin cannot hope to place a puppet in power, it can hope for a weak caretaker. The Russian leadership might prefer competing elite groups instead of key opposition figures — from exiled Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, jailed Viktar Babaryka, or Valery Tsepkalo — who have contacts with the West.

Whether Russia would accept a leadership change through constitutional reform and new rounds of elections is another critical issue, especially because working with the Coordination Council, which was founded by Tsikhanouskaya, would entail legitimizing the opposition protest movement. Furthermore, the Russian leadership cannot be seen as siding overtly with Coordination Council members, who are depicted as “agents of the West” in Russian media.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:57 PM on May 24 [6 favorites]

I'd imagine the Lukashenko regime already foresaw the air travel restrictions and decided it was worth it. The tit for tat response would probably be to find someone they care about living in the US/EU, accuse them of being a terrorist and throw them in Gitmo, but Lukashenko knows that would be hard to pull off in the US/EU. That leaves economic sanctions that hurt both sides and increase their solidarity with Russia. And whatever illicit punishments western intelligence agencies can pull off without their citizens caring.
posted by ecreeves at 4:11 PM on May 24

Flight tracking shows that the aircraft was almost at the Lithuanian border when it turned around for Minsk.

Another 2-3 minutes and it would have been out of Belarusian airspace.
posted by automatronic at 5:19 PM on May 24

2 to 5 minutes is target painting speak for safety off. Near boarder turn around tests the meddle of pilots, International boundaries, weapon systems, political/ military authority.
posted by clavdivs at 5:35 PM on May 24 [2 favorites]

The previous two comments are on exactly the topic I was wondering about, clavdivs your answer is confusing and unclear to me. Like, why would the pilot not just soldier on and get to the safety of Lithuanian airspace? The whole "terrorist / bomb on board" thing is obviously bogus and would anyways not justify any attack on the plane. So why divert?
posted by Meatbomb at 6:48 PM on May 24

I assume airliner pilots are instructed not to play chicken with fighter jets, much like 7-11 clerks are instructed not to fight with armed robbers.
posted by ryanrs at 7:07 PM on May 24 [34 favorites]

Pilots are not in the business of arguing with directions from ATC, either.

They say climb, you say how high.
posted by automatronic at 7:21 PM on May 24 [4 favorites]

Well, there's always "unable, stand by".
posted by tigrrrlily at 8:05 PM on May 24

meatbomb your counter response is confusing as it questions the immutable law of common sense that when someone has a weapon pointed at you, with a crowd around you, one would not take 3 minutes to play hero.
solder on...really dude, think it through.
posted by clavdivs at 8:09 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

The pilot probably thought the bomb thing was bullshit. But the pilot probably also didn't know one of their passengers was a wanted dissident. Nor did the pilot think Belarus was going to kidnap two of their passengers. There was no reason to gun it for the border. Especially with 126 lives on the line if the fighter fired on them.

I don't blame the pilot at all. I probably would have done the same in their shoes.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 8:12 PM on May 24 [9 favorites]

The whole "terrorist / bomb on board" thing is obviously bogus and would anyways not justify any attack on the plane.

The events of 9/11 suggest otherwise -- American fighter pilots were in the air with the expectation that they would be told to shoot down a passenger jet.
posted by billm at 9:48 PM on May 24 [8 favorites]

The EU has banned Belarusian airline Belavia from EU airspace, on top of announcing soon-to-be-detailed sanctions both personal (adding to the 80+ list of banned individuals) and economic, probably import bans. This will largely cut off the Belarusian diaspora from the homeland - those who were able to go back at all.

Poland has been accepting Belarusian asylum applications since Lukashenko took over, and basically paying forward Western support of our independence efforts in a similar way, including a state-owned TV channel in Belarusian, but the asylum applications exploded after the falsified vote last year. It's an exodus of young people like Protasevich, who was living in Warsaw until recently. Thankfully there's a strong support network by now, providing asylum seekers with lodging and work connections beyond the basic state minimum, but the trauma of having to leave your home country without knowing when or if you'll ever be able to see your family's graves - at least there's a deep cultural understanding of it here, because that's just the Eastern Europe story.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:47 AM on May 25 [16 favorites]

I still don't get it. It's the least deniable thing ever. They could have grabbed him as he walked past an embassy, chopped him up with a chainsaw, leaked some footage, then denied everything and claimed to be "concerned for his whereabouts". It would have the same effect on anyone thinking of becoming a dissident but with a veneer of deniability such that the international community would let it slide. They could have had him gunned down in the street by an expat gangster, obviously not an official government action, he was probably mixed up in crime as the KGB already suspected, these things happen. Again, dissidents would be made aware.

I would say that recent actions from the Russian side have that as almost a hallmark: a veneer of implausible deniability. And this one in Belarus absolutely does not - their official military plane, their airspace, foreign plane full of civilians owned by a foreign airline, landing in their country. No wiggle room, not even implausible "maybe he slipped and fell on some Novichok" : it definitely happened, they definitely did it.

So we have to conclude that the goal was to openly break international law? Normally the goal of doing that is to show that you can, that the rules don't apply to you. But that isn't the case for Luka. The rules applied with lightning speed by international standards.

So, who benefits from an instantly punished, on-the-record, breach of international norms? Not Lukashenko, he could have spent the millions this is costing him on something slightly less flamboyant to kill a few journalists.

And for the West, the question is "do you respond differently when the other side's intention is to break the law and be punished for it?".
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:35 AM on May 25 [6 favorites]

Were there three operatives on that flight?

KGB agents, presumably there to ensure his capture.

In a strange twist, it seems that one of the three was just a regular passenger who asked to get off in Minsk because thats where he was eventually headed anyways!
posted by vacapinta at 2:20 AM on May 25 [9 favorites]

I assume airliner pilots are instructed not to play chicken with fighter jets...

Especially after the Russians shot down KAL 007.
posted by TedW at 6:31 AM on May 25 [7 favorites]

I still don't get it. It's the least deniable thing ever.

It's ego. With all his downsides, Putin is at least smart/subtle, with a spy/diplomat education. Lukashenko was a political officer and party functionary, where the chief qualification is the ability to yell at people at length and humiliate them. I suspect he doesn't look that far ahead, and he's been terrified since last year's election and protests that he's losing his dictatorial grip on the country. His reign's been harsh enough that I suspect he has nightmares of Ceaucescu's execution rather than Yanukovich's escape.

Plus again, ego. His modus operandi is doing stupid things to humiliate people to make himself feel better. If we're doing childhood trauma, he never knew his father and grew up bullied as a bastard. He commissions art glorifying him. He banned applause because the opposition used it as a protest measure, which along with convicting a one-armed guy for applauding got him an IgNobel prize. I suspect the possible consequences didn't merit as much weight as the blow to his ego from Protasevich's offense of daring to fly over his country.

There's also the possibility that Putin&co have put him up to it to test the waters and see what they could get away with in the future. But he's stupid and impulsive enough to do it on his own.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 7:44 AM on May 25 [9 favorites]

A Geneva convention...

Biden, Putin to meet in Geneva on June 16

"The leaders will discuss the full range of pressing issues, as we seek to restore predictability and stability to the U.S.-Russia relationship," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

Biden has previously said he wants Putin to stop trying to influence U.S. elections, stop cyberattacks on U.S. networks emanating from Russia, stop threatening Ukraine's sovereignty and release jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

posted by chavenet at 7:56 AM on May 25

Anne Applebaum, as usual, is insightful on issues related to Eastern Europe (article in the Atlantic - I subscribe, but I think you get a certain number of articles for free).

(On another note that I hope is OK to bring up, the film White Nights features Mikhail Baryshnikov as a Soviet ballet dancer who has defected and whose plane crash lands in Russia. I still vividly remember the scene where the Baryshnikov character realizes that the plane is going down and what that will mean for him. You can see a bit of that scene in the trailer.)
posted by FencingGal at 8:03 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

I still don't get it. It's the least deniable thing ever. They could have grabbed him as he walked past an embassy, ----[not quoted because callous and vile]----, leaked some footage, then denied everything and claimed to be "concerned for his whereabouts".

Man, that Cold War dehumanisation really sticks around, doesn't it? There's no need for people to be gleefully describing the gruesome tortures that either were inflicted by other dictators, nor the ones that Roman Protasevich is clearly facing right now.
posted by ambrosen at 8:18 AM on May 25

stop cyberattacks on U.S. networks emanating from Russia

Given that by some estimates, as much as 20% of Russia's GDP comes from cybercrime (such as ransomware and online bank fraud), that may be a big ask.
posted by acb at 10:18 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]

I found Timothy Snyder has a lot of lucid lectures that are available on youtube that I find satisfying in terms of understanding the often baffling behavior of Putin etc.
posted by Pembquist at 10:38 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]

"With all his downsides, Putin is at least smart/subtle, with a spy/diplomat education."

With all due respect, Putin was not a "diplomat" and barely a "spy". His first gig after graduating from KGB training was helping harass and round up Soviet dissidents in Leningrad - brave average people who fought for basic human rights. Putin brags about it in his biographical interview book. He then had assignment in Germany - not West Germany but rather Soviet-controlled East Germany, where his job was to help/keep an eye on the Stasi as the latter thought-policed East German society. Putin is not "subtle" - he is a brutal thug who helped reignite the Chechen war to ride into office, appointed an attack dog (Ramzan Kadyrov) to throttle re-occupied Chechnya into submission, then for good measure launched a stupid and reckless war in Ukraine that has left millions displaced and killed 12,000 so far. Compared to him, Lukashenka is a severely underachieving amateur.
posted by senor biggles at 2:44 PM on May 25 [12 favorites]

Daily Beast: ‘Bomb Threat' That Justified Belarus Hijacking Came 24 Minutes After
But timestamps show that the email was sent 24 minutes after Belarusian authorities told the pilot and crew that they were transporting an explosive device as well as passengers.
posted by ryanrs at 2:49 PM on May 27

Russia refuses to allow European planes to land in Moscow, initially turning back a flight on grounds that it avoided Belarusian airspace.
posted by acb at 3:11 PM on May 27

If more proof is needed as to who is behind this, there it is.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 7:05 PM on May 27

Yes! All airlines should keep trying, too. Make Putin harden his stance, alone.
posted by rhizome at 7:16 PM on May 27

Ten days after he was taken from a plane diverted to Minsk by autocrat Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, 26-year-old opposition journalist Roman Protasevich appeared on state television. Visibly injured, Protasevich praised Lukashenko and parroted his government’s story that protests are backed by the West. He disavowed his past opposition and confessed to organizing “mass unrest.”

By the end of the interview, he was crying.
[Alt. Thread reader link w/embedded clip.] “I never want to get into politics again. I want to hope that I can correct myself and live an ordinary peaceful life, to have a family, children, stop running away from something.” - Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:43 PM on June 3

"I love you, Big Brother." Holy shit I am trying to imagine how it could be worse. Poor guy, poor country.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:24 AM on June 4 [3 favorites]

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