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The hijacking of the Ryanair flight through Minsk. Some hot thoughts for the geopolitics of tomorrow (v2)

(B2) Did Belarus act alone? Is this incident one too many for the Lukashenko regime? What does it mean? A passage or a strategic change? How will Europeans react? United or as usual, with blockages?

Between Europe and Russia, Lukashenko seems to have deliberately chosen (credit: European Commission - B2 Archives - August 2014 - from left to right: C. Ashton, V. Putin, A. Lukashenko)

On the hijacking

Russian technical support ?

We do not yet know much about the preparation, organization and exact sequence of events during the interception of Ryanair flight FR4978 bound for Vilnius. But this type of operation cannot be totally improvised. It will therefore be necessary to check closely how the Belarusian authorities acted, if they acted entirely alone? Or if they received technical, political or other support from the Russian services? NB: it will also be necessary to verify the identity of the Russians who have descended on the way to Minsk.

One incident too many ?

Until now, the Minsk regime has been repressing intensely, but internally. The Europeans had reacted with a few sanctions, rather symbolic and soft, it must be recognized on the scale of the temporality of the sanctions (cf. sanctions Syria, Iran, Russia, etc.). This event reshuffles the cards. It is the incident too many, or the revealing incident.

A tactic of provocation ?

At the political level, we can already see a huge resemblance. Russia has always sought before a decisive European Council to attract the attention of Europeans, to test them, if necessary, even to provoke them. Throughout the sequence of the implementation of European sanctions vis-à-vis its intervention in Ukraine, instead of tempering or lessening, Moscow often chose exactly the moment between 72 and 24 hours before a summit to take provocative action which forced the Europeans to toughen up their rhetoric, or at least to convince the hesitant to rally to the positions of the toughest on sanctions.

The rallying of Minsk to Moscow is recorded?

This event is highly symbolic. The Minsk regime has abandoned the temptation to be a buffer state between Russia and Europe. It is now clearly attached to and deliberately places itself in the Russian orbit, thus abandoning any hint of independence.

On the European reaction

Test the Europeans, or unify them?

Everyone talks about testing Europeans. In fact, the test has already been done. Many times. When Europeans have been tested in their flesh and bones lately, they have reacted, in a rather united way. This was the case for the Ukrainian affair (which took a much stronger turn for the Europeans with the shooting and crash of the MH17 plane). This was the case for terrorism in 2015-2016. This was the case with the negotiation on the Iranian nuclear issue, etc.

On Russia, are the Europeans united?

Sometimes it takes Europeans a little time to come to an agreement. In general, the first weeks are somewhat the expression of European diversity, everyone expresses themselves, vetoes are sketched out. In the end, the position is unified. Sometimes under the influence of external events. Paradoxically, the Kremlin helps Europeans to unite a lot. Sanctions against Russia are the perfect example. Moscow was hoping for a break in the European bloc. She never intervened. A controversial subject in the years 2014-2015, it has become so commonplace that the renewal of sanctions takes place below the political level and barely takes up two lines in most European media. (1)

Hungarian opposition to new sanctions against Minsk?

The Hungary of Viktor Orban who has shown himself on several occasions in the skin of the European 'Mister No'. A position that sometimes stems from the depths of Hungarian foreign policy, but more often also from a national position (opposing Europe is never bad) and European (opposing raises the price of the 'Yes ' Next). Hungary has thus recently opposed the transition to the fourth wave of sanctions, which are more economic. In the Ryanair hijacking case, the price is too high. The pressure from the other countries concerned is very strong. And there are many of them: from Poland to Lithuania (destination country), via Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Greece, etc. The price of Budapest's 'No' would be too high for Hungary's political capacities.

A strong European reaction

In the end, what we can appreciate is the speed of the European reaction. We have rarely seen such an almost unanimous concert of solidarity taking place. This is a point to emphasize in times when the reaction is sometimes more evasive. In just a few hours, the Europeans agreed that it was necessary to move on to the consequences, that is to say, to sanctions against Belarus. It is true that the proximity of a European Council has helped. When Europeans feel threatened in their flesh, they react with the whole panoply of tools at their disposal: diplomatic messages, summoning of ambassadors, individual sanctions, economic measures...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. To compare with the often divergent positions on Israel and Palestine is a mistake. It is an infinitely more delicate and complex area, both in terms of political, historical and military relations.

Updated with the latest comment on the speed of the European reaction

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).