Of course, any rational person who follows international news even casually and understands that history does not start anew every day recognizes that the
outrage over Belarus’ grounding of a Ryanair plane is selective,
to put it mildly. This incident is notable only because it was carried out by a government that is disliked by the United States and its satellites. Of course, everything is fine when they do it. But let us return to that subject later and look at what happened last Sunday.
A Ryanair commercial flight from Greece to Lithuania was diverted from its course shortly before leaving Belarusian airspace last Sunday, May 23rd, and made an emergency landing in Minsk, Belarus’ capital city. As a result, Belarusian authorities were able to apprehend “opposition leader” Roman Protasevich. He is facing serious charges of inciting mass unrest in an attempt to violently overthrow the government in his home country.
The Belarussians apprehended, arrested, and interrogated him, and he appears to have begun singing, which is unquestionably the most reasonable course of action in his circumstances. The flight was allowed to take off, and when it arrived in Lithuania, it was greeted by a number of high-ranking officials, which was a rather amusing display. There would be no reason to comment on the event if this were the end of the story. Regrettably, what followed was a massive display of
international hyperventilated outrage from all sides.
Over the last 72 hours, the growing outcry over Protasevich has made it extremely difficult to deal with — morally, politically, and aesthetically.
It began with a series of ritualistic condemnations. Anthony Blinken issued a statement, as did the Prime Minister of Greece, the country from which the flight originated, and Ursula von der Leyen, who called for more sanctions and promised that the EU would quickly decide what sections to impose on Belarus. And, of course, Russia was thrown into the mix right away, with conspiracy theories abounding about how this was a “Russian operation.” Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a Belarussian “opposition leader” who is “in exile” has called on IATA to ban Belarussian airline Belavia. The Polish authorities, who, along with the Baltic states, are the region’s most professional Russia-haters, are hyperventilating to the point of hysteria. A shitstorm of epic proportions occurred, to put it another way.
Let’s start with the main character. Who is Roman Protasevich? He’s one of my favorite types of “opposition activists”: no one knows what his regular job or source of income is, or can answer that question instantly; and his main occupation is literally fooling around on the internet pretending to do “politics” or “activism.” Because the Western media, which hate Lukashenko’s guts, cannot call him what he is,
a right-wing extremist bumelant,
they refer to him as a “reporter,” “journalist,” or “blogger.” Yes, of course! Like Navalny and all the region’s most virulently anti-communist, East-hating proto-fascists, from Tallin to Sofia.
Like many “dissident bloggers” from Eastern Europe, he has strong ties to far-right gangs. The Belarusian militia group known as the Pahonia Detachment is one of them, but there are also reports that Protasevich worked in the press department of Ukraine’s notoriously nazi Azov Regiment.
Protasevich, on the other hand, is best known for his role in organizing anti-Lukashenko protests in Belarus. He did so through the Telegram channel NEXTA, which has over a million subscribers and is based in Poland. The Belarusian government has responded by accusing him of extremism and organizing mass riots. He could spend up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
During the protests in Belarus last year, he was without a doubt one of the most important marketing handlers; he was one of the top people, if not the top person, who distributed a large number of stories on Telegram alongside videos of the protest he was organizing. To put it another way,
Protasevich appears to be a classic case of a regime-change agent.
In addition, over the last few weeks, a slew of reports have appeared on the internet from various “anonymous sources,” all of which I personally strongly suspect are linked to Russian intelligence, claiming that NEXTA and other organizations and NGOs linked to the Belarusian opposition were receiving significant funding and support from various Western governments, particularly those of the European Union. Naturally, and I emphasize this, I am unable to verify this information. If one wishes, one can dismiss it as “Russian disinformation,” but such information has been circulating for some time, and it appears to be circumstantial and detailed, and I personally believe it is accurate.
Additionally, according to Belarussian and Russian media, Protasevich is wanted for a variety of crimes. He was charged with doxing cops as well as inciting other acts of violence. This, according to some sources, is the case. I haven’t been able to verify those claims, and I have no plans to look into them further. Suffice it to say, the charges appear credible to me.
As a result, Protasevich does not appear to be politically or morally interesting. Of course, unless you are a right-wing extremist, he may appeal to you. And why should he not be held accountable for attempting to organize a putsch similar to the one that occurred in Ukraine in 2014 in collaboration with US regime-change experts?
Let’s also take a look at what he was doing in Greece. He was attending a Delphi Economic Forum session. Most of you have probably never heard of this organization. It appears to have little significance in terms of global or local affairs; it is more akin to academia or a Komsomol-like organization for those seeking to join the global elite. The Delphi Forum is a scaled-down version of the Davos World Economic Forum, catering primarily to Greek global elite aspirants. There, they talk about the economy and deliberate on a variety of “woke” issues.
The EU and Europe’s green New Deal, Greece’s me-too movement, Europe’s successful reset, and so on. Apart from the usual liberal nonsense, geopolitical issues were also discussed. For example, how to deal with Russia or “protect press freedom” in Eastern Europe, particularly in relation to Russian relations, then human rights and Russia, and so on. Geoffrey Payatt, the US ambassador, was one of the keynote speakers at this event.
In case you forgot, he was the one US ambassador in Ukraine during the Maidan coup who famously was talking to Victoria Nuland when she uttered the memorable line “f*** the EU” and they were talking about “Yatz” being “their guy” in Ukraine at the time. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya herself was one of the other keynote speakers (via Zoom).
Given that Geoffrey Payatt is one of those people whose personal and political mission is to simply take down Russia, and that Tikhanovskaya is also present online, it seems rather logical to conclude that Protasevich is not just a “blogger” but a person with some fishy connections with western powerful personas, and that he wasn’t there just for a conference. This, however, is just conjecture.
The legal issue is the second question.
The government’s actions in Minsk have been widely described as “piracy.” Oh, really?
Since the Smolensk crash in 2010, we’ve had a lot of discussion in Poland about aviation and all kinds of international regulations. The 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviationis something we’ve all heard about over the last decade, and many of us (including myself) have read the document. Every state has “complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory,” according to this document. The convention expressly authorizes states to intercept aircraft. It just states that such an interception must be used only as a “last resort.”
So, from the perspective of international law, which the West as a whole despises, it was
certainly not a “brazen and shocking act,”
as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken describes it.
On the other hand, one must be intellectually honest and admit that such a regulation does allow for politically biased interpretation. Because of the document’s ambiguity, it can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and if you disagree with Belarus’ action, you can find reasons to call it in violation of the convention. You can also find arguments if you believe Lukashenko was just clever and everything is basically fine. In any case, international law, for better or worse, allows for a great deal of flexibility in its application.
This is the case in this instance. European politicians wasted no time in slamming Belarus’ actions in the strongest terms possible. For example, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney described it as “effectively state-sponsored aviation piracy.” Coveney’s Swedish counterpart, Ann Linde, said, “It is dangerous, reckless, and naturally the EU will act.” Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab denounced the Belarus government’s “reckless, cynical, and dangerous hijacking of a Ryanair flight.” All British planes have been ordered to stop flying over Belarus by the UK government.
Let’s use the hypocrisy-meter now.
When, in a strikingly similar incident< in 2016, Ukrainian authorities forced a Belarusian Belavia airliner to land in Kiev and arrested one of the passengers, Armen Martirosyan, an Armenian citizen who was also a journalist and a blogger. His only problem was that he opposed the putsch in Ukraine, earning him the moniker “pro-Russian propagandist” and other derogatory labels.
When details of a Ukrainian plan to intercept a plane flying from Belarus to Turkey and arrest passengers allegedly belonging to the private Russian security firm Wagner were revealed last year, no one expressed any concern. In 2013, when Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane was forced to land in Austria in the mistaken hope of finding American whistleblower Edward Snowden on board, no Western leaders protested.
outraged and furious complaints from Western leaders appear to be endless.
The reality is that this type of thing has happened before, with planes being diverted and people being arrested. And it has happened on numerous occasions. The Moon of Alabama blog has provided a detailed account of recent inflows into such incidents since the end of WWII, when Western governments have diverted planes in exactly that manner in order to arrest various officials. I won’t repeat the entire list here, but it does make sense to highlight a few symbolic events.
In 1957, Israel forced a Syrian passenger plane to land on its territory in order to gain hostages who could later be exchanged for captured Israeli soldiers. A Royal Air Maroc flight to Algiers was diverted to Algiers by French authorities in 1957. Ahmed Ben Bella, Algeria’s independence leader, was on board. The United States wanted to detain a man on a flight from France to Mexico in 2010. The plane was diverted to Canada at the request of the United States, where the man was arrested and later transferred to the United States. Turkey downed a Syrian passenger plane flying from Moscow to Damascus in 2012 to search for weapons. Then, in 2016, Ukraine dispatched military planes to force a plane flying from Kiev to Minsk to return. The authorities were looking for a specific passenger on board, who was later discovered to be the wrong man.
Moon of Alabama also quotes Patrick Crone, a Finnish journalist and commentator, who has discussed how a flight from Russia was diverted by Ukraine in 2020 with the intention of abducting a Russian citizen on a flight from Belarus to Turkey by forcing the plane to land in Kiev; that particular plot failed.
To summarize, this type of thing occurs frequently.
The question of
why the West is so enraged and venomous
cannot be answered solely by the usual hypocrisy, given the intensity of the international outrage-theatrics on this occasion. There’s a lot more to it than that!
To begin with, it is becoming increasingly clear that the frantic Western attempts to overthrow Belarus’ government over the last year have failed. We have seen massive protests, which, despite demonstrating legitimate social and political grievances within Belarussian society, I personally believe were heavily backed by the West and may have even been financed and orchestrated by the West to some extent.
To that, we’ll add the humiliating failure of a possible coup attempt, which Putin mentioned recently and which the Western powers don’t appear to have refuted in any way that’s remotely convincing or credible. They didn’t talk about it at all, in fact. Belarus was clearly targeted in a concerted manner over the last year, and there is a great deal of frustration and anger that the operation failed completely. The fact that someone involved in it, such as Protasevich, has now been arrested adds salt to the wounds. And it’s not surprising that the governments most enraged and outspoken about it are the ones that appear to have been most heavily involved in the events in Belarus — the United States and the United Kingdom.
It’s also a slap in the face for EU officials, as it comes shortly after the release of a bizarre report by the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, which effectively called for regime change in Russia and spoke in splenetic terms about Vladimir Putin and his government. In fact, a significant portion of that report was devoted to events in Belarus, and it spoke about President Lukashenko in almost as harsh and abusive terms as it did about Putin.
Consider also the pitiful EU bureaucrat Josep Borrell’s disastrous visit to Moscow in February, when he tried to bring up the events in Belarus with the Russians, expressing his deep disappointment that Belarusian authorities had managed to crush the protest movement.
It’s not surprising, then, that the failure of that particular venture has elicited a great deal of rage. And now there appears to be a lot of fear that more things like Pratasevich’s arrest will happen, targeting people who are friendly or involved with the West. It’s easy to see why the Euroatlantic bubble is frustrated and angry.
However, there is a more fundamental reason. Specifically, following an incident like this, following Pratasevich’s arrest, following the disintegration of the Belarusian protest movement, following Lukashenko’s reassertion of control, and following Belarus’s drift into ever closer alignment with Moscow,
the West is powerless and pathetic;
there is nothing it can do, and anyone paying attention can see it.
Over the last two days, there has been a lot of talk about possible sanctions imposed by the West on Belarus. So far, they appear to be insignificant and ineffective. Belarus’ national airline is no longer able to fly to western European capitals. That may be inconvenient for that airline, and it may be confusing for some passengers. However, they can still travel to the West via Aeroflot or a western airline. There will reportedly be token sanctions against some Belarussian officials, including the freezing of assets and the prohibition of travel to the west, where most of them would not likely travel by their first choice. These are
merely symbolic sanctions
that have no bearing on the situation.
Over the last few days, the Russians have made it clear that any sanctions imposed on Belarus will be met with retaliation by the Russian Federation. In fact, the sanctions will only hasten Belarus’ growing integration into Russia and the Eurasian bloc, which is led by Russia and China. They are ineffective and counterproductive. The fact that the West has no choice but to impose them demonstrates the West’s ultimate disarray and decadence. Following the xenophobic, obsessive anti-Russian fantasies promulgated by the United States and the United Kingdom, Europe becomes trapped, exposing its weakness and lack of independent, interests-based thinking.
This incident exemplifies a point I’ve been making in my articles and programs for quite some time: the world is changing. The days of Western powers being able to do virtually anything they wanted, such as overthrow governments around the world, incite violence in various countries, force planes to land, arrest people and transport them to secret prisons, and torture them, are pretty much gone.
the West’s ruthlessness does not excuse Belarus’ dictatorship or Lukashenko’s actions
– two wrongs do not equal a right. Making nihilistic claims that every political leader is bad and corrupt, regardless of where they would rule, makes no sense. However, instead of falling for emotional outbursts against Putin or Lukashenko, or anyone else for that matter, it makes perfect sense to try to understand the situation. Making a ruckus over human rights violations in two or three countries targeted by the Western establishment does not make you a better person, much less a morally superior one. It turns you into a fool, a person incapable of forming their own opinions, an interlocutor incapable of engaging in a nuanced debate; in short, it robs you of your intellectual dignity and adulthood. On the other hand, when you think rationally and present an informed opinion free of emotion, you are not a morally or politically despicable person, nor are you a cynic. It is not unethical to admit that Western outrage stems from politicians’ attitudes toward the Belarusian government rather than a broader commitment to protect human rights, or that Lukashenko’s fate will be decided solely by Moscow’s heavy hand, rather than Western NGOs’ activities in Belarus. And it certainly does not qualify you as a “Russian agent.”
Paul Robinson, a professor at the University of Ottawa and author of the Irrussianality blog, one of my favorite intellectuals and a true Western expert on Russian matters, discussed the recent incident in one of his posts. He alluded to
a psychological phenomenon known as “action bias.”
This is a belief that value can only be realized by doing something. This is reflected in the argument that one can’t do nothing when foreign states act in ways that we don’t agree with. “However, we routinely do nothing in such situations and are better off as a result. Perhaps now is a good time to do the same,” Robinson suggests. Take this advice!