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In a TMS exclusive, Benno Zogg, a senior researcher in the Swiss and Euro-Atlantic Security Team at the Center for Security Studies in Zurich, said that the arrest of Roman Protasevich is part of a larger wave of pushback from the Lukashenko regime against individuals and organizations, such as media and journalists, who speak out against the government.
- On May 23, Belarusian authorities informed the flight crew of a Ryanair passenger flight flying from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania that there was a possible bomb on board and that the plane would need to make an emergency landing in Minsk, Belarus’ capital city.
- The plane was escorted by a Belarusian fighter plane to the Minsk airport, where Roman Protasevich, a journalist who has been critical of the nearly 27-year-long rule of Aleksandr Lukashenko in Belarus, was arrested.
- According to both Belarusian law enforcement and Ryanair, no bomb was found on board and as events unfolded in the following hours, it became clear that the Belarusian government forced the plane down in order to arrest Protasevich, on Lukashenko’s orders.
- President Lukashenko has been described as a strongman leader with close ties to Russia and the former Soviet Union. He’s even been referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” a persona only reinforced by this news.
Why did this all happen?
- In a TMS exclusive, Benno Zogg, a senior researcher in the Swiss and Euro-Atlantic Security Team at the Center for Security Studies in Zurich, said that the arrest of Roman Protasevich is part of a larger wave of pushback from the Lukashenko regime against individuals and organizations, such as media and journalists, who speak out against the government.
- Zogg pointed to recent raids of popular TV stations and news offices, as well as the use of violence against street protesters as indicators that, “the regime under Alexander Lukashenko is ready to go at great length to quell any source of dissent or free opinion-making.”
- He also said Belarusians aren’t exactly happy with what’s going on. “A majority of Belarusians,” Zogg said, “are dissatisfied with the regime, with political and economic stagnation, and appalled by the use of violence.”
- For citizens, though, Zogg pointed to the futility of recent protests and the lack of change that resulted. “The level of paralysis is high,” he said.
- Sanctions have already been put in place by the European Union and the United States has been clear in its intention to follow suit. Lithuania is leading the charge in the investigation of what exactly happened on the flight.
- Zogg warned that these steps might not be the right move, warning that economic sanctions only tend to hurt regular citizens and workers rather than the political elite and that they would make Belarus only more dependent on Russia.
- “The most striking [thing] to me is how this incident may indicate that the Belarusian regime lost even more hesitation to alienate the international community,” he said. Such a willingness to alienate itself makes it much harder for western leaders to work with Belarus to meet common goals and further isolates the country.
- The winner wouldn’t be Belarus, but it wouldn’t be the West either. “Russia, meanwhile, as Belarus’ only remaining partner, would stand to gain even more influence and leverage,” Zogg said.
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