Dramatic events saw a Ryanair passenger plane being diverted and forced into landing in Minsk. This sparked international outrage after it was revealed that the bomb threat which grounded the plan was a ruse to detain journalist Roman Protasevich.
Protasevich, 26, is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of NEXTA, a news channel based in Poland that spread clips of mass protests against Lukashenko via encrypted messaging app Telegram. He was a vocal opponent to Belarusian President Alexander Lukasenko. He was exiled in Lithuania with his girlfriend Sofia Sapega until they were taken off Ryanair’s plane and detained.
This move was condemned by world leaders, including the US. Daily Reuters reports that the European Union has placed sanctions on Belarus and will ask all EU airlines not to fly over it. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said Monday that additional economic sanctions would be imposed on Belarus.
The root of all the drama in the Eastern European country is Lukashenko. Lukashenko, 66 years old, has held power in Belarus for more than 26 years and is not afraid to rage the international community just so he can detain one activist.
In 1990, the story of Lukashenko’s rise to power begins. He was in his 30s, and a promising young soldier who had just won a seat in the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic’s parliamentary election.
Lukashenko boasts close ties to the Soviet Union, detailing a timeline of his previously held posts in the Soviet Army and his membership in the Soviet communist youth wing. In 1993, Lukashenko was appointed head of the anti-corruption committee of the Belarusian parliament.
With 80.3% of votes, Lukashenko was elected president in 1994. He ran on the promise to “take the country back to the abyss”. Since then, he has held on to power.
Lukashenko’s grip on power is in danger, and he has been called “Europe’s last dictator”
Lukashenko’s grip on power has been shaken in recent years due to strong opposition during the 2020 election. Fearing that he might be toppled, he falsified election results – declaring that he won 80% of the vote and giving himself a sixth term.
This move sparked protests across the country. Sanctions were even imposed last year by the UK and Canada against Belarus officials in a bid by a group of Western nations, who tried to take Lukashenko to task for rigging the elections and repressing peaceful protests.