Belarus plane diversion: Putin plays down crisis at talks with Lukashenko

(BBC) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed Western outrage over the diversion of a Ryanair jet to the Belarus capital from where a dissident and his girlfriend were seized.

During talks in the Russian resort city of Sochi, Mr Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko spoke of “an outpouring of emotion”.

The EU has since urged Europe-based airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace.

They have demanded the release of Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega.

The pair had been flying from Athens to Vilnius, two EU capitals, last Sunday, when a fighter jet was scrambled over Belarus to escort their plane to land at Minsk airport over a bomb threat which turned out to be fake.

The UN’s civil aviation agency has said it will launch a “fact-finding” investigation into Belarus’s actions, asking whether there was any breach of international aviation law.

After the EU called on airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace, Russia refused access for several Moscow-bound Air France and Austrian Airlines flights.

What do Putin and Lukashenko accuse the West of?

Russia is the Belarusian leader’s strongest political ally, even though personal relations between the two long-time presidents are at times said to be strained.

Mr Putin suggested that the EU had applied double standards – and referred to an incident in 2013 when a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales from Moscow was denied entry to several surrounding countries as the US hunted for fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden, who had sought sanctuary in Russia.

Mr Putin said that in 2013 “there was silence” from the EU as the Bolivian plane was forced to divert to Vienna airport.

The Belarusian president told Mr Putin that the West was seeking to stir new unrest in his country.

“An attempt is under way to rock the boat to reach the level of last August,” he said, referring to mass protests against his rule after a disputed election.

Mr Putin praised closer ties between Russia and Belarus, which are formally two parts of a Union State.

Article By News784

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