WaPo is using the exactly correct phrase, "State Sponsored Hijacking;"
Earlier Sunday, Ryanair Flight 4978 from Greece to Lithuania was over Belarusian airspace, when it was contacted by local air traffic control. The controllers claimed that there might be a bomb on board and ordered the plane to land in Minsk, Belarus’s capital city.
The evidence suggests they were concerned with a very different threat — to the regime of Belarus’s longtime autocratic ruler, Alexander Lukashenko. One of the passengers on the plane was an opposition journalist, Roman Protasevich, whom Belarusian authorities wanted to take into custody. According to reported eyewitnesses: “One guy was very distressed [when we were diverted to Minsk]. Later we were taken out of the plane in groups of 4. He told us who he was and added ‘I am facing a death penalty here.’ He was accompanied by military all the time.”
As you can tell from this solid video review, they were almost out of Belarus airspace:
Let's do some back of the bar napkin math: they were no more than 10 nm from the Lithuanian border ... NATO airspace, before they turned. Ryan Air flies 737-700 that has a cruise speed of Mach 0.785 (450 knots). That is about 1.5 minutes of flight time. Almost ... but 90-seconds is a long time when faced with a MiG-29 armed to the teeth.
Things could have gone horrible wrong.
His name is Roman Protasevich ... a co-founder and a former editor of the NEXTA channel on the social media platform Telegram, which has become a popular conduit for Mr. Lukashenko’s foes to share information and organize demonstrations against the government.
He fled the country in 2019, fearing arrest. But he has continued to roil Mr. Lukashenko’s regime while living in exile in Lithuania, so much so that he was charged in November with inciting public disorder and social hatred.
As a teenager, Mr. Protasevich became a dissident, first drawing scrutiny from law enforcement. He was expelled from a prestigious school for participating in a protest rally in 2011 and later was expelled from the journalism program of the Minsk State University.
He is a video blogger and an opinion journalist.
Totalitarian nations and people cannot stand free discussion, criticism, or being held accountable. They will do all they can - from getting them kicked off media platforms on the low end, through getting them fired at their day job, to kicked out of university, to putting them in jail or killing them on the high end.
They are so vexed by the concept of a free mind, they will do the most reckless of things to destroy it.
What was done here? Reckless is an understatement.
This is one hell of a precedent. The international community must respond in a clear, firm, and punishing manner. Belarus is not China or the USA. No friendly economy will collapse from isolating it. Hard to see how it could be driven closer to Russia in any event.
At a minimum, action at the ICAO, UN, EU, and national level by all nations should be firm, clear, and impactful. So far, only Lithuania seems to be taking this seriously. The EU is beclowning itself, as normal.
Big issues from small countries have a habit to growing out of proportion, so caution is also in order ... but we haven't pulled even one click on the ratchet yet.
Roman Protasevich needs to be trending everywhere in the West.