Lukashenko Lashes Out After BBC & Others Admit Detained Activist’s Ukrainian Azov Battalion Ties
Belarus’ long time leader Alexander Lukashenko has spoken out on Wednesday over the Ryanair diverted flight saga, pushing back against widespread accusations coming from the former Soviet satellite country’s opposition but especially Western leaders that his security services engaged in “state hijacking” of the airliner carrying activist and blogger Roman Protasevich. Promises of EU and US additional sanctions were swift after Protasevich and his girlfriend were detained on charges of inciting riots and publishing the personal information of police and officers of the state online. State airline Belavia is also facing an airspace ban over Europe and carriers out of the EU are avoiding flying over Belarus.
Instead of concealing the ordeal or downplaying the detention which has attracted international media scrutiny and outrage, Lukashenko has gone on the offense, lashing out at his critics while justifying the detention of Protasevich, calling him an “extremist” who was ultimately taking cues from a foreign entity in his activism and journalism, or even “inciting riots” – as he’s being charged with. “One extremist with his female accomplice. So let his numerous Western patrons answer this question: Which intelligence services did this individual work for?” Lukashenko said as quoted by the Belarus Segodnya newspaper.
“Not only him but his accomplice as well. These Western advocates should answer one more question: who paid him for taking part in the war in Donbass?” Belarus’ president added, “Perhaps, they fear this the most. So they’re making a fuss. His experience as a mercenary is huge.“
It’s long been reported and a subject of controversy in Belarusian and Eastern European media that Pratasevich was indeed in war-torn Donbas in Ukraine at the height of fighting there in 2015. And BBC among others is now acknowledging:
“Mr Protasevich confirmed in an interview last year that he had spent a year in the conflict-hit Donbas region and was wounded, but said he was covering the conflict as a journalist and photographer.”
He was “embedded” with the far-right and neo-Nazi linked Azov Battalion while they fought fierce battles against pro-Russia separatists. However, BBC notes that Protasevich has insisted he was only there as a journalist: “A former commander of the Azov unit has backed Mr Protasevich’s version of events, confirming that he spent time with them as a journalist and was wounded,” the report says.
Anglo-American journalists working the Russia beat doing a bang-up job maintaining disciplined silence over Protasevich’s Nazi ties. You only need state censorship if journalists won’t self-censor, which ours do as a motor reflex. https://t.co/7eeKhYTSTx
— Mark Ames (@MarkAmesExiled) May 26, 2021
Minsk is now accusing the young detained activist of essentially being a mercenary and “terrorist” who’s long plotted the overthrow of the legitimate government. Lukashenko added in his Wednesday comments:
“These facts are well-known not only here, but in brotherly Russia, and also throughout the world. And he did not hide this. Well, here, in Belarus, he and his accomplices also plotted a massacre and a bloody coup,” Lukashenko said further.
Photographs of Protasevich’s time in Eastern Ukraine increasingly point to him having been more than a mere journalist in the conflict…
— Volodymyr Ishchenko (@Volod_Ishchenko) May 26, 2021
The Belarusian president stressed and claimed further that “there was a terrorist on that plane.”
Instead of skirting the issue, Lukashenko owned up directly to authorizing Protasevich being removed from the plane along with his girlfriend:
“According to the law, this person had been put on a terrorist list, and his organization is recognized as an extremist one. Who does not know this? And that we detained him, a Belarusian national, and his partner who holds our residence permit at the airport, this is our sovereign right to do so,” he said.
However, the president stated the Ryanair flight was not initially diverted because of efforts to apprehend Protasevich, but because there was a bomb threat. The West has accused the bomb threat of being a ruse orchestrated to force the plane’s emergency diversion and landing.
“As we predicted, ill-wishers from outside and inside the country have changed their ways of attacking our country,” Lukashenko said, according to state media. “They crossed many red lines, crossed the boundaries of common sense and human morality.”
Wed, 05/26/2021 – 23:20