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Hijacking Western Complacency

By hijacking a commercial flight in order to arrest a dissident journalist, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko would appear to have crossed a new red line vis-à-vis the West. And yet, Western governments for years have shown that they are perfectly willing to tolerate KGB-style abuses right under their noses.

WARSAW – Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has once again demonstrated the lengths to which he will go to crack down on his opponents. On May 23, he deployed a MiG-29 fighter jet to force down a commercial flight, which was traveling from Athens to Vilnius, shortly before it left Belarusian airspace. The purpose was to apprehend Roman Protasevich, the former editor-in-chief of the Belarusian opposition publication and social-media channel Nexta, who was arrested after the plane landed in Minsk.

Why a regime that is already under US and EU sanctions would go so far as to hijack a plane traveling from one EU member state to another is not hard to fathom. Nexta is Lukashenko’s public enemy number one. More than just a news portal with millions of followers across multiple social-media platforms (especially Telegram), Nexta has been the single most important conduit for information in Belarus since the country’s fraudulent presidential election last August.

In addition to reporting on Belarusian security forces’ violent crackdown against peaceful demonstrators, Nexta had provided daily instructions on when, where, and how Belarusians should mobilize during last fall’s countrywide mass protests against Lukashenko’s bogus election victory. Its Sunday calls for a National March for Freedom brought as many as 200,000 people into the streets of Minsk. And all of these demonstrators knew precisely what to do, because they were following the playbook published by Protasevich and his colleague, Nexta founder Stepan Putilo.

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