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The forced landing of flight FR4978.

Professor Elena Korosteleva comments on Roman Protasevich's arrest.

Roman Protasevich, the 26 year old journalist, and prominent opponent of Belarus’ authoritarian president was arrested on Sunday after the flight he was travelling on from Athens to Lithuania was forced to land in Minsk following reports of a false bomb threat. The Ryanair passenger plane, headed to the country’s capital Vilnius, was diverted just two minutes before it was due to cross into Lithuanian airspace.

The international community has condemned the move, with UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying he was “alarmed” by Lukashenko’s “outlandish actions” and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling the diversion “shocking”.

Professor Elena Korosteleva says the “hijacking” incident is indicative of president Alexander Lukashenko’s crackdown on dissident voices.

Protasevich worked for Poland-based online news service Nexta, which has broadcast footage of mass protests against Lukashenko through the Telegram messenger app.  Asked why Protasevich has been targeted Professor Korosteleva said protesters were “coordinating themselves and the Belarusian diaspora around the world” by posting “news and warnings about special military forces or operations” on digital platforms including Nexta.

Asked about Putin’s possible encouragement on BBC Radio 5 Live Korosteleva replied:

“I don’t think Lukashenka would have acted alone here, in the sense that his actions, diverting an International plane clearly would not be unsupported. Being emboldened by Putin’s support has encouraged him to commit this act of terrorism.”

Read more of her analysis here.

Listen to Professor Elena Korosteleva on Radio 5 Live (1:43:56).

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