The hijacking of a Belarusian airliner disturbs Biden’s hopes of repairing strained US-Russia relations


The extraordinary May 23 interception of a Ryanair plane carrying Belarusian opposition journalist Raman Pratasevic and 132 other passengers over Minsk, the capital of Belarus, came at a critical time for the United States and Russia.

On June 16, Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin group to meet For the first time since Biden took office. The Biden administration has indicated its desire to build A stable and predictable relationship with Russia. Recently, the White House Waives Sanctions on Nord Stream 2 Natural gas pipeline from Russia to the European Union, allowing Russia to sell more gas to the European Union.

Days later, the Belarusian autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko sent MiG-29 fighter jet طائرة To force the plane flying between two NATO allies to land, which was carrying Raman Bratasevic as one of the passengers. The Belarusian authorities arrested the journalist upon his arrival.

The European Union reacted with fury, advising airlines to Avoid Belarusian airspace, banning Belarusian airlines from Europe and agreeing to strike Belarus new economic sanctions.

Putin is a strong ally of Lukashenko. Days after the plane accident, Lukashenko was hosted in the Russian resort city of Sochi, where they spent five hours talking and then left in yacht trip Together on the Black Sea.

Ryanair plane on runway
This Ryanair passenger plane was diverted from Athens, Greece, to Minsk on May 23, 2021, after being told, wrongly, that there was a bomb on board.
Petras Mallukas/AFP via Getty Images

At the upcoming summit in Geneva, Biden and Putin are expected to talk about a set of pressing issues, including the Russian military build-up near Ukraine, arms control and covid-19 pandemic.

Now, Biden should also use his personal meeting with Putin to try to increase pressure on Lukashenko, who The borders of Belarus were basically closed to prevent citizens from leaving. Russia is decisive to hold Lukashenko to account – But Putin is unlikely to endorse any effort to do so.

The relationship between Russia and Belarus

Lukashenko was already in conflict with Europe and the United States after that The presidential election in August was rigged And he brutally suppressed the citizens who protested his fraudulent victory. Bratasevic covered the uprising as editor-in-chief of the Telegram channel Nexta Live, which has 1.4 million subscribers.

A series of international sanctions followed Lukashenko’s campaign in August 2020. But Moscow provided a crucial lifeline. In addition to recognizing Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus – unlike at least 33 countries around the world – Putin also I promised to protect Belarus He warned foreign powers not to interfere in the affairs of Belarus.

This allowed Lukashenko to prove to regime insiders and security forces that he could maintain his 26-year grip on power.

Huge crowds waving red and white flags in a public square
Tens of thousands of Belarusians joined in protesting Lukashenko’s disputed re-election in August 2020, when election results showed the longtime dictator had won by more than 80%.
Getty Images

Putin’s support did not waver with the hijacking. After the summit between Putin and Lukashenko in Sochi on May 29 and May 30, Russia announced that it would soon release a delayed release. $500 million in credit to Belarus. It also agreed to increase flights between Belarus and Russia.

The United States and Russia are at odds

Meanwhile, Russian-American relations were severely strained.

First there was Russia 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. Then, there was Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and other elections, and its apparent participation in the 2020 election SolarWinds hack attacks It violated the data of multiple US federal agencies and thousands of organizations globally.

In April, Biden imposed Sanctions against the Kremlin for this business.

The 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, apparently by agents of the Russian government, and his subsequent imprisonment has heightened tensions.

When asked if PutinkillerDuring an interview in March, Biden said yes.

This turbulent history explains why both the United States and Russia low expectations for the upcoming US-Russia summit.

Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said the two leaders would exchange views but would exchange views. Unlikely to “come to an understanding” In most cases. The Biden administration says it simply hopes that the summit “normalization of relations“Between the two countries.

The United States to punish Belarus

at May 31 interviewUS Ambassador to Belarus Julie Fischer said that the US “will work in unison with our European partners to come up with appropriate responses” to the hijacking of Lukashenko’s plane.

“The West must respond in terms that Lukashenko can understand,” she said.

Policemen in riot gear and holding batons physically carry a man in the street
Police arrest a protester in an anti-government rally last year.
Stringer/AFP via Getty Images

The United States plans to Full re-imposition of penalties On June 3, US citizens and companies are prohibited from conducting financial transactions with nine state-owned companies in Belarus. The United States also intends to stop allowing Belarusian airlines to enter its airspace.

Biden’s office is said to be preparing for executive order Allow him to impose additional sanctions on Lukashenko.

Before meeting with Putin, Biden will attendحضر G7 summit in England. Dangerous behavior of Belarus on the group’s agenda.

Raising the cost of suppression

Belarus will likely be targeted with new sanctions by a joint effort by the European Union and the United States to help hold the Lukashenko regime accountable for its bad behavior.

But sanctions alone will not stop Lukashenko.

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As long as he maintains Russian support, the West’s power to rein him in is limited. Measures to increase the cost to Russia of continuing to support the Belarusian regime may be necessary to reduce Lukashenko’s apparent sense of impunity.

But the Belarusian people would benefit if Biden and the European Union unite against a rogue state on Europe’s eastern frontier. Its authoritarian leader is terrorizing his own people – and as the Ryanair incident demonstrated, the international community – with Russia as a voluntary enabler.

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