Belarus plane hijacking: what action should be taken?

The EU has closed its airspace to Belarusian airlines and imposed further sanctions on individuals after the forced rerouting of a Ryanair commercial flight to Minsk. The plane en route from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk on Sunday, ostensibly because of a bomb threat, but then the Belarusian dissident Roman Pratasevich, who was on board, was arrested. Europe's press calls for a more radical reaction.

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Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Not the way to boost the EU's credibility

Belarusian planes are still taking off and landing at European airports, Corriere della Sera fumes, outraged by the EU's inconsistency:

“After Lukashenka's act of piracy, EU leaders threatened to impose a 'no-fly zone'. Really? All we have seen so far is a non-binding request to European airlines not to fly over Belarus and the (declared) intention to block Belarusian companies in the EU. But nothing is definite. Imagine how the White House would have reacted if a regime from Latin America had hijacked a US airline flight. Either you have geopolitical credibility, or you have to work much harder to build it than the EU is doing right now.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

These sanctions won't hurt Lukashenka

Eesti Päevaleht is also not satisfied with the sanctions imposed so far:

“Banning Belarusian flights from the EU airspace is somewhat toothless. Lukashenka has sealed off Belarus from the West, so why should he care? The fewer contacts we maintain, the less interest there is in the cruelty with which the Belarusian KGB persecutes Lukashenka's opponents. ... The regime's continued existence is based on security organs that are lavishly financed from the state treasury. These resources can be squeezed dry. Two large state-owned companies - the fertiliser producer Belaruskali and the oil company Belneftekhim - bring the regime hundreds of millions of euros a year, but they're not yet on the sanctions list.” (UA) /

Traitor sat in the cockpit

The pilot of the plane that was forced to land in Minsk had been bought, surmises Alfred Koch, former Russian deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin, on

“If I were an investigator handling the incident, the first thing I'd think about is the Ryanair pilot. You can bet your bottom dollar that he took money and 'followed instructions'. ... The pilot knew everything in advance - and delivered Pratasevich in exchange for money. ”

Kathimerini (GR) /

Yet another timid reaction

Kathimerini is disillusioned by Europe's reaction:

“Europe has imposed a series of sanctions - but certainly none that will scare the isolated dictator of Minsk. At a time when many forces on the periphery of Europe are either questioning the status quo or even want to forcefully change it, the question is what exactly Europe is waiting for? The transatlantic cavalry? Uncle Sam? Such views are not only outdated, they may also point to Europe's true grandeur: a Europe that even someone like Lukashenka tends to ignore.”

Népszava (HU) /

Isolate Belarus

Népszava proposes further concrete steps against Lukashenka:

“The rest of the world must now prove that the price of violating jointly formulated international rules is higher than the expected gain. Symbolic steps have long since ceased to fulfill this purpose. ... Belarus must be excluded from all prestigious events, starting with the Olympic Games in Tokyo. ... The regime's ambassadors must be expelled, and the minimal relations we maintain with it afterwards must be used exclusively to save Pratasevich.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Don't overdo the sanctions

Die Presse stresses the EU's responsibilities towards the people of Belarus:

“Sanctions have a prophylactic effect. The EU did well not to listen to those who would have delayed sanctions. Now, however, it must beware of those who want to tighten the sanctions to the max. ... The EU cannot afford to let a leader who directly sabotages its interests get off scot-free. But nor can it forget that for those people who have the geopolitical misfortune to be locked up in a country with Lukashenka, the European Union represents paradise on earth. Being a normative major power is not easy. The EU needs to learn that first.”

Le Vif / L'Express (BE) /

A sign of weakness vis-à-vis Moscow

The EU's lack of firmness vis-à-vis Moscow has only encouraged Lukashenka, Le Vif/L'Express says:

“The rerouting of a European airliner and the kidnapping of an opposition figure living in exile in Lithuania and Poland testify to a certain daring on the part of the Belarusian president. ... This attitude can probably be explained by the feeling of impunity that the Minsk dictator feels in view of the fact that in recent years the Europeans have only reacted with very moderate sanctions to the actions taken by his 'friend' Vladimir Putin outside of Russia. ... The European Union's 'show of force' against Belarus indirectly proves its weakness vis-à-vis Russia.”

Deutsche Welle (RO) /

Eastern Europeans' warnings not taken seriously

Western Europe should not have been so surprised by the incident, says Deutsche Welle's Romanian Service:

“The West, which is as 'progressive' as it is cowardly and arrogant, didn't listen to the Baltic, Polish, Czech and Slovak leaders, nor to the Ukrainians, who are wrongly being kept out of Nato, nor to the opposition in Belarus. Because inoculated by a century of experience with Bolshevism, Eastern Europeans know all about communism, fascism and the tyrannies of the East. ... So we must ask not whether there will be another act of barbarism and state terror, but where; which journalists will be kidnapped and tortured, which free press will be brought to its knees, which dissidents and bloggers will be beaten and killed.”

Õhtuleht (EE) /

This should be just the beginning

The international community must not stop here, Õhtuleht urges:

“Perhaps they should also end all transit through Belarus, as [Estonia's] President Kaljulaid suggests. So far, the sanctions have not been convincing. Closing Belarus' airspace should be just the beginning. Because the arsenal of possible ways of exerting influence is far larger, ranging from the expulsion of diplomats to economic sanctions to the exclusion of the country from sporting and other events.” (CZ) /

Proof that ice hockey championship decision was right reflects on the significance of sanctions:

“Of course, the EU can't force Lukashenka to resign or to repeat last year's disputed presidential election. However, there must be more support for dissidents in Belarus, and words must be followed by deeds. ... This hijacking has shown that it is a good thing that the Ice Hockey World Championships are not taking place in Belarus. The fact that Belarus was axed as host of the championship was also due to main sponsor Škoda Auto's threat to withdraw if it was held in Minsk. ... If we only criticise dictators yet continue to trade with them, they will not take us seriously.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Powerless soft power

Dissidents are and remain defenceless, notes Volkskrant columnist Sheila Sitalsing:

“So this is how you fly through the Union of Peace, Security and Diplomacy of Soft Power. And then the mad dictator whose wrath you had just escaped strikes, while the whole continent looks on aghast. So much for the power of soft power. Dissidents must always be on guard, even if they have safe refugee status. ... Autocracy does not stop at national borders.”

LRT (LT) /

Cold War has begun

Vilnius, which has become the adopted headquarters of Belarusian regime critics, must now reckon with increased attacks from Minsk, writes political scientist Gintautas Mažeikis on Lrt:

“The time when it was still possible to resolve the growing bilateral conflict is now over. The hijacking of the plane is a textbook case of how to start a new Cold War. The next step: concerted action by Minsk against Tikhanovskaya and her comrades-in-arms in Vilnius. ... The terrorist regime plans to attack Lithuania in various ways: with economic sanctions, nuclear blackmail (via the nuclear power plant in Ostrovez), espionage, cyber attacks, support for unfriendly actions by the Kremlin, military build-up and preparation for a 'hot' war against Lithuania.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Unfortunately not a new Cold War

Although Western media love to talk about a new Cold War, this time they're completely off the mark, writes Russia expert Anna Zafesova in La Stampa:

“In the Cold War there were rules that were meticulously worked out by both sides to prevent the worst from happening. ... With the hijacking of Roman Pratasevich along with an entire Ryanair passenger plane, the world is instead dealing with a dictator who neither wants nor tolerates rules. ... He does not seek dialogue but confrontation. He behaves as if there were no international treaties, conventions, courts or obligations.”

To Vima (GR) /

Europe shouldn't cast the first stone

The West is no stranger to actions such as Lukashenka's, To Vima reminds readers:

“In 2013, France, Spain and Portugal closed their airspace to a plane with then Bolivian President Evo Morales on it, forcing it to land in Austria to check whether Edward Snowden was on board - the man who had revealed US intelligence service secrets. Not to mention a number of clearly illegal practices by countries like the US when, for example, they unilaterally decide to execute various terrorists without arresting them and giving them a fair trial.”