What happened when a plane that was travelling from Athens to Vilnius made an abrupt change of course over Belarus to arrest one of its passenger? That the European Union bars Belarusian airlines from flying over or landing in all 27 member states and that the relations between Belarus and the Ue decrease more and more every day.
Ryanair flight ‘hijacking’
It happens that when Aleksandr Lukashenko ordered to divert a Ryanair flight, the International condemnation rose among anger and fear of Lukashenko’ power. The West but not Russia, Mr Lukashenko’s strongest political ally.
“What the West has done… for political reasons is completely irresponsible and endangers the safety of passengers,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at the end of May when the Eu sanctioned Belarus. “It is time for Brussels to learn how to take effective measures to protect citizens against real, not imaginary, threats,” Zakharova added.
Despite Eu leaders have demanded the release of 26-year-old opposition activist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Vladimir Putin offered Aleksandr Lukashenko support against the West in Ryanair plane standoff saying that the international reaction to the incident was “an outburst of emotion”.
What’s next for Lukashenko and his dependence on Russia? In a show of his support to Belarus, Vladimir Putin invited Lukashenko to a bilateral meeting that took place in Sochi, the Russian southern city, one of the numerous meeting between the two leaders often held behind closed doors and without comments to the press. Since August 2020, when Belarusians took the streets of Minsk and several other cities to protest against Lukashenko and his nearly three-decade rule over a disputed election, Putin have continued to meet regularly with Lukashenko.
Russia and Belarus, which are formally part of a “union state”, have been in talks for years to further integrate their nations, despite Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in March of this year that there were no discussions underway about unifying Russia and Belarus. Probably because Belarus is not Ukraine and a unification won’t be seen as it was the annexation of Crimea.
Russia’s interest in stable relations with Belarus includes economic, military and political elements. As for the military part, on March 2nd, the two countries’ defense ministries signed a five-year strategic partnership agreement. Belarus and Russia have also announced plans to establish three permanent joint military training centers in Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod and Kaliningrad regions and in Belarus’s western Grodno Region, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania.
oil and gas dependence
And then there’s the oil and gas chapter: back to 2020 the two countries have failed to reach an agreement over the terms for the year and the dispute over oil and gas prices has been ongoing since 2016. 2021 started with beneficial terms for Belarus on the 2021 deliveries. The agreement signed between Russia and Belarus reads to ship more than 9.8 million tons of refined oil products via Russian ports: beginning of March 2021 Belarus began exporting refined petroleum products through Russian ports in Ust-Luga and Saint Petersburg, showing the Belarusian economy is effectively propped up by exporting heavily subsidized Russian oil and exporting refined petroleum products.
Belarus citizens might not have the same opinion, but Belarus has greatly benefited from its relationship with Russia in the last decades, at least since Aleksandr Lukashenko is in power.
And if Lukashenko acted alone forcing the Ryanair plane to land in Belarus’ capital, he knew from the very beginning Eu would have turned its back on Minsk, but not Moscow. We would have to wait for another semi private meeting between Putin and Lukashenko to see their next moves, or hoping for fair elections in Belarus. But for this, we might see another plane case.