Who the hell knows what really happened.. Lukashenko claims ‘planned provocation’ forced interception of Ryanair flight
Alexander Lukashenko has accused the west of staging a “planned provocation” that he claimed forced Belarus to intercept a Ryanair flight carrying a prominent dissident at the weekend.
In his first comments since he sent a fighter jet to escort the Lithuania-bound plane to Minsk, the president of Belarus told parliament he had “acted legally, protecting people according to all international laws”.
The Kremlin said there was “no reason not to trust” what Lukashenko said, but others, including Nato and Greece — where the plane first took off — disputed his account.
Lukashenko on Wednesday defended his country’s arrest of dissident blogger Roman Protasevich, which opposition leaders and western governments said was the real reason for the forced landing, as the country’s “sovereign right”.
He claimed Minsk air traffic control had passed on a warning of a bomb threat it received from Switzerland. Belarusian officials previously said the threat came from Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has denied any involvement, via ProtonMail, the Switzerland-based encrypted email service.
ProtonMail told the Financial Times: “We haven’t seen credible evidence that the claims are true, but there is plenty of evidence to support the contrary.”
Lukashenko said the Ryanair pilots had made their own decision to land the plane, en route from Athens, in Minsk, despite being much closer to its destination, the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, at the time.
The former collective farm boss, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for 27 years, denied claims by Ryanair passengers that they had been held at gunpoint in Minsk and said the crew “was on the phone with someone for seven hours and didn’t want to fly out”.He said Athens and Vilnius airports had also received the bomb threat and refused to let the plane land in Vilnius.
But Greece disputed that account. A foreign ministry spokesperson said the country “sticks to the statement made last Sunday, describing the incident as a state-sponsored hijacking”.
Lithuanian authorities declined to comment because of their ongoing criminal investigation. But Gabrielius Landsbergis, foreign minister, said: “Terrorist is what terrorist does or intends to do.”