On August 16, the Belarusian state news agency Belta reported on a conversation President Alexander Lukashenko had with Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Sivak and Transport and Communications Minister Alexey Avramenko. The topic: European Union sanctions on the state air carrier, Belavia.
“Belarus is a transit country, and you must do your best to ensure the normal operation of the transport industry,” Belta quoted Lukashenko as telling his subordinates.
The rest of the Belta article was mostly mundane – until the end, when it quoted Lukashenko quote as saying:
“Starting from Belavia, when those crazy people [abroad] started to stifle our company. Now we know why.”
While the context is a little fuzzy, it seems clear that Lukashenko was lashing out at the EU for banning Belavia flights to member countries – clearly an economic hit.
Whatever the case, his insinuation that sanctions are “crazy” is false, given that, in May, Belarusian authorities effectively hijacked a passenger jet belonging to the Irish carrier Ryanair. The plane, which was flying from Athens to Vilnius, was forced down while passing through Belarusian airspace.
Air traffic controllers at Minsk International Airport told the Ryanair pilots a false story about receiving a bomb threat against the flight and ordered them to land.
The airliner, which had nearly reached the Lithuanian border, was intercepted by a Belarusian fighter jet, at which point it changed course and headed for Minsk.
After it landed, Belarusian authorities arrested Belarusian dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen. Pratasevich was paraded on Belarusian state TV; he remains under house arrest after being released from prison.
The Belta article did not report any of those details.
Before being banned by the EU, Belavia flew to 20 European airports. In June, the EU ordered member states to “deny permission to land in, take off from or overfly their territories to any aircraft operated by Belarusian air carriers.”
The sanctions hit other Belarusian industries, including the makers of trucks, fertilizer and cigarettes. Analysts lowered their estimates for Belarus’ 2021 GDP growth.
Lukashenko has been on a tear, jailing or deporting political opponents since declaring himself the victor in disputed 2020 elections. That outcome triggered huge protests and international condemnation.