On Sunday May 23rd a Belarusian fighter jet intercepted a civilian Ryan Air flight and forced it land in Minsk, Belarus. Authorities promptly arrested a dissident journalist onboard named Raman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who is a Russian national.
This incident was an audacious example of the lengths that the regime of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko would go to silence opposition voices and dissidents.
Lukashenko has been in power for over 27 years, and Belarus is often described as Europe’s last dictatorship. In August, his regime faced is most significant challenge in years when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to challenge the results of obviously fraudulent elections which further tightened Lukashenko’s grip on power.
My guest today, Sofya Orlosky, is senior program manager for Europe and Eurasia at Freedom House. We kick off discussing why Lukashenko’s regime would seek to capture Raman Protasevich in such a way. We then have a discussion about the policy options that the European Union and the United States are currently weighing in response. We conclude with a conversation about what this incident says about Lukashenko’s relationship with Vladimir Putin, who aspires to join Russia and Belarus in a formal political union.
If you have twenty minutes and want to better understand why Belarus would go to such lengths to silence a dissident journalist, have a listen.