NATO chief: Belarus actions must ‘have consequences’

Belarus’s diversion of a commercial flight to arrest an opposition activist and journalist last week “has to have consequences,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday.

NATO has strongly condemned the May 23 incident, during which Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ordered that a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania be diverted to Minsk so that Roman Protasevich, a journalist and activist, could be taken from the plane and arrested.

In response, the United States announced last week that it would reimpose full blocking sanctions against nine state-owned enterprises in Belarus, and Washington is also prepared to issue sanctions in coordination with the European Union.

Stoltenberg said that he welcomes sanctions the United States and several other alliance countries have moved to place on Belarus, saying the “state hijacking” of the civilian aircraft “has to have consequences. We have to impose costs.”

The civilian head of NATO also touched on Russia’s close ties to Belarus, noting that “they are very closely integrated. They are working more closely together, also when it comes to the air domain.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has offered support to Lukashenko and dismissed criticisms from Western nations outraged over the act.

“Russia has not condemned it,” Stoltenberg said during a Brookings Institution event. “Russia has actually tried to do the opposite to excuse and explain that outrageous action.”

The international incident has raised the stakes for an upcoming summit between President Biden and Putin, with the two leaders to meet on June 16 in Switzerland.

Biden is expected to confront Putin for his role in enabling Lukashenko, who has carried out a brutal crackdown on dissidents since he fraudulently claimed victory in the August presidential elections.

NATO has already moved to punish Minsk in other ways. Shortly after the flight incident, NATO headquarters restricted the access of personnel at Belarus’s diplomatic mission to the alliance.

The European Union has also urged Europe-based airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace.

While Belarus is not a member of NATO, it has maintained a diplomatic mission to the alliance since 1998 and had ties with the military side of NATO since 1992.

Tags Belarus belarus flight Belarusian protests Jens Stoltenberg Joe Biden NATO US-Russia relations Vladimir Putin

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