Russia has dismissed the notion that it was involved in the plot to force a Ryanair flight to land in Belarus in order to detain an opposition activist as “obsessive Russophobia”.
Belarusian authorities on Sunday used a false bomb threat and a MiG-29 fighter jet to force the plane to land in Minsk, where dissident journalist Roman Protasevich was detained by police, sparking widespread international condemnation and a pledge of EU sanctions.
Dominic Raab, UK foreign secretary, said on Monday that it was “very difficult to believe that this kind of action could have been taken without at least the acquiescence of the authorities in Moscow”, adding that he had “no clear details” on the possible involvement of Russia, Belarus’s neighbour and closest ally.
Russia and Belarus have a deeply integrated air defence system, are military allies and their security services have a number of co-operation agreements. Russia last month also arrested two Belarusian men that it said were plotting a coup against Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s autocratic leader who has been in power since 1994.
The Kremlin dismissed Raab’s allegations. “This is obsessive Russophobia, this is an obsession with blaming Russia for absolutely everything,” Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for president Vladimir Putin, told reporters. “It is unfortunate that such politically inappropriate accusations occur.”
In response to the incident, which Ryanair described as an “act of aviation piracy”, the UK and EU banned Belarusian state airline Belavia from using their airports and called for European airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace.
Brussels also said it would impose “targeted” economic sanctions against Minsk.
Peskov said that the restrictions imposed on Belarus were too hasty, given that a full investigation into the incident had not yet taken place.
“There is probably no point in trying to explain anything, here phobia and obsession begin to take their toll and the authors of these statements are not given the opportunity to soberly assess the situation,” he added.
The Kremlin’s comments came after Russia’s foreign ministry on Monday defended Minsk’s actions, and accused its critics of hypocrisy, citing other examples of planes being diverted by western nations to arrest wanted people.
Russian state media has also defended Minsk’s actions. Margarita Simonyan, head of state-funded television network RT, said Lukashenko had “pulled it off beautifully”.
Moscow on Tuesday also denied news reports that said four Russian nationals had left the plane in Minsk and not carried on to its intended destination of Vilnius.
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, said only one Russian national, Protasevich’s girlfriend Sofya Sapega, remained in Minsk, and that the others who disembarked were from Greece and Belarus. The flight originated in Athens and was en route to Vilnius when it put down.
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