Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko spoke Wednesday morning to the Belarusian parliament, standing by his decision to divert a civilian plane over the weekend in order to allegedly extract a dissident journalist.
“I acted lawfully and was protecting the people according to all international rules,” Lukashenko claimed.
According to The Washington Post, Lukashenko, “who has ruled the country since 1994 and is known for often extravagant remarks, suggested that by diverting the plane, he also prevented a potential nuclear catastrophe, as the airliner could have triggered the defense systems on the country’s Astravec power plant.”
He also criticized the response of the West and the punishments imposed against the country, saying that it is an effort to “suffocate” Belarus in a move of “hybrid war,” the outlet reported.
“As we predicted, ill-wishers from outside and inside the country have changed their ways of attacking our country,” Lukashenko said. “They crossed many red lines, crossed the boundaries of common sense and human morality.”
Lukashenko said that the plane was intercepted because of a bomb threat, which he now claims originally came from Switzerland. Belarusian authorities previously claimed that they had received information about the bomb in an email from Hamas, the terrorist group ruling the Gaza strip. Hamas has denied the allegation.
The alleged Hamas email was from a ProtonMail address, which could explain the claim about Switzerland since the secure email service is based in Switzerland.
The Post reported, “Lithuanian officials said the pilot diverted the plane to Minsk after the control tower told him the explosive would go off if he landed in Vilnius. Belarus scrambled a MiG-29 jet to escort the plane.”
Once the Ryanair plane landed, however, no bomb was discovered, leading many to believe the forced landing was due to the fact that the aircraft was transporting a dissident journalist and his partner.
The West has responded forcefully to Lukashenko’s actions with the European Union moving swiftly on Monday to impose sanctions and call on a limitation of travel over the country.
In an announcement, the European Council demanded “the immediate release of [journalist] Raman Pratasevich and [his partner] Sofia Sapega and that their freedom of movement be guaranteed.” They also called “on the International Civil Aviation Organization to urgently investigate this unprecedented and unacceptable incident,” as well as on the European Council “to adopt further targeted economic sanctions.”
They invited the Council to adopt more listings of individuals and entities “as soon as possible on the basis of the relevant sanctions framework.” The group also called on all European Union-based carriers to avoid flying over Belarus. In addition, they called on the Council to create the measures needed in order to prohibit Belarusian airlines from flying over E.U. airspace “and prevent access to EU airports of flights operated by such airlines.”
A video was released earlier this week that portrayed captive journalist Roman Protasevich. Supporters believe that it was made under duress as Protasevich confessed “to organizing mass riots in the city of Minsk.”
In the video, he also said, “The attitude of the [Interior Ministry] employees towards me has been as correct as possible and in compliance with the law.”
His father, Dmitri Protasevich, told the BBC on Monday that he was “really afraid” of how his son would be treated by the authorities.
“We hope that he will cope. We are afraid to even think about it, but it’s possible he could be beaten and tortured. We are really afraid of that,” he said.
“We are really shocked and really upset,” he said. “This sort of thing shouldn’t be happening in the 21st Century at the heart of Europe.”
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