Overnight Defense: Pentagon keeps Trump-era ban on flying LGBT flags | NATO chief urges 'consequences' for Belarus

Overnight Defense: Pentagon keeps Trump-era ban on flying LGBT flags | NATO chief urges 'consequences' for Belarus
© Getty

Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: The Pentagon will not grant an exception to fly LGBTQ+ flags on U.S. military installations during Pride month, keeping in place a Trump administration policy to limit the type of flags displayed on base, the Defense Department’s top spokesman said Friday.

“After some careful consideration, the department will maintain the existing policy from July of 2020 regarding the display or depiction of unofficial flags,” press secretary John Kirby told reporters. “There won’t be an exception made this month for the Pride flag.”

The background: Then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper last year implemented a broad flag policy intended to target the Confederate battle flag. But the directive, which banned Confederate flags and other hate symbols being displayed at their military bases, also prohibited other flags including those of sports teams’ and the Pride flag.

The decision: Following a review, Pentagon officials decided to keep the policy in place as rescinding it might create “other challenges” to the rule, Kirby said.

He added that the decision in “no way reflects any lack of respect or admiration for people [from] the LGBTQ+ community, the personnel in and out of uniform who serve in this department.”

“We are proud of them,” Kirby said.

Elsewhere: June marks the start of Pride Month, which celebrates the LGBTQ+ community.

The Pentagon policy only allows POW/MIA flags, U.S. state flags, flags of military units and those of allied countries.

The State Department will not follow the same ban, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken (D) in April  issued an authorization on having the Pride flag being displayed at diplomatic embassies. 

 

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.

A welcome move: 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.”

Russia’s role: 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.”

And right around the corner: The international incident has raised the stakes for an upcoming summit between President BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries FDA aims to give full approval to Pfizer vaccine by Labor Day: report Overnight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response MORE 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.

Other punishments: 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.

 

ICYMI

– The Hill: US government found no evidence that Navy UFO sightings were alien spacecraft: report

– The Hill: FBI director draws 'parallels' between ransomware attacks and 9/11

– The Hill: Putin claims US trying to hold back Russia's development ahead of summit with Biden

– Defense News: Defense firms quietly resume political giving after post-insurrection pause

– Defense One: Space Force Seeks $831.7M for Unfunded Priorities