A growing number of European countries are blocking access to Belarusian airlines. The response comes after Belarus intercepted a commercial flight and removed and arrested Roman Protasevich, an opposition journalist who was on board.
While Western democracies try to sanction Belarus, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, seems to support Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. To this end, Russia initially was watching how the situation would develop. Obviously, Russia was supportive of the idea of the plane being diverted in the framework of the counterterrorist operation to eliminate the bomb threat.
Together with this, being supportive of him and the importance of interdicting potential terrorists — as the opposition figure, Protasevich is treated, they do not overwhelming in their support for Lukashenko. That is, the reaction of EU and US was important.
In many respects, Russia’s probably quite glad that the ties between Europe and Belarus and Belarus and the United States have now been complicated — because this means that Lukashenko and Belarus are entirely dependent on Russia. And Russia wants to keep Belarus very close.
And this also means the movement towards a more authoritarian system of the former Soviet republics and parts of Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But, from another perspective, this is also a tale of a particular person and a very small group around him who want to stay in power no matter what.
At the same time, we should draw a line between Lukashenko himself, Alexander Lukashenko, and the people of Belarus as they clearly want something different. And neither keeping Lukashenko in power nor having even a closer relationship with Vladimir Putin or generally with Russia is very popular in Belarus.
Although the Russians were always a bit irritated by Lukashenko trying to play off Europe against Russia, seeking European investment, building closer diplomatic relations with the European Union and the United States while spending Moscow’s money and distancing himself from Putin as much as possible — they don’t want to foot the bill for Belarus.
If now Belarus and Lukashenko personally becomes dependent on Russia, that’s might be beneficial for Vladimir Putin who has himself said that he wants to stay in power indefinitely. But if Lukashenko goes out of office as a result of a populist uprising, that’s pretty bad for Putin. Moreover, Putin will not want to see Lukashenko ousted from power as a result of a grassroots opposition movement. He understands good that such scenario may sooner or later repeat in Russia.
But in the context of the rest of the world, not just in Europe we can be pretty sure that if we let Lukashenko get away in this case, this may repeat with other actors. Still there is a lot at stake and people are extraordinarily worried about the European Union, the United States and others not having a sufficiently tough response that puts Belarus on notice and anybody else who might be thinking of doing something similar.