Belarus: the plot thickens

27 May

To keep focus on the double standards in play, I may well have conceded too much ground in yesterday’s post on the Belarus incident. Here’s how I opened:

So “international opinion” castigates Belarus after this Sunday’s forced landing – without doubt a despicable and alarming act 1 – of a plane carrying a wanted man, who was then arrested.

That footnote 1 marker, between ‘act’ and dash, refers to this:

To keep this post short I don’t go into the character of the man snatched. That he was snatched at all is indeed “despicable and alarming” though the point here is that the precedent for such piracy was not set by Belarus. But even as Roman Protasevitch is being lionised, pre-emptive dismissal by corporate media of “propaganda” efforts – we don’t do propaganda in the West of course – by Putinbots and Lukashenka lovers to paint the man as a neo-nazi inadvertently flags up, for any adults straying into the room, a more complex realpolitik in a part of the world where far right resurgence, aided by US backed ‘colour revolutions’, is a very real threat.

Since then, with my task of highlighting hypocrisy completed, I did a little research on both the incident and the man at its epicentre. For reasons given many times on my site, most recently here, I see it as credulity incarnate to rely solely on corporate media for information about anything beyond the weather, football and what’s on telly tonight. I get my pictures of the world by triangulating sources that include said corporate media – the more upmarket instantiations obliged to concede some truths, even on important though seldom on crucial matters, if only to maintain brand credibility – but which go far beyond.

Where ‘far beyond’ includes:

  • mainstream but non Western outlets like Al-Monitor and even Haaretz;
  • publications like the Economist and FT, whose niche audiences can on occasion be entrusted with a degree of realism too dangerous for Guardian or Telegraph readers;1
  • outlets like RT and Sputnik, funded in whole or part by the Russian government to push back against the recklessly Russophobic output of all Western media;2
  • counter-media within the West: a heterogenous set that takes in: media watchdogs like Media Lens and OffGuardian; more or less radical outlets like CounterPunch, GrayZone and even Private Eye’s City Grubber pages; bloggers like Caitlin Johnstone, Craig Murray and Jonathan Cook; and revolutionary left sources like WSWS;
  • maps – so often a vital piece of the jigsaw.

By such triangulation – factoring in known biases, weaknesses and limits to journalist access3 – I don’t say we always get at  the truth. Simply that we can get a lot closer to it than reliance on Graun and Beeb could possibly take us.

With this in mind, here’s Ben Norton yesterday (May 26) in the GrayZone. Both are sources I’ve come to trust, but that’s not the issue. They do not ask us to trust them; rather, they offer reason backed by evidence:

US-funded Belarusian regime-change activist arrested on plane joined neo-Nazis in Ukraine

A high-profile Belarusian regime-change activist whose detention on a forcibly grounded airplane caused an international scandal has extensive links to neo-fascist groups, which his political sponsors in Western capitals have conveniently overlooked.

Right-wing activist Roman Protasevich was traveling on the Irish airliner Ryanair on May 23 when the plane crossed into Belarusian airspace and was ordered to land by state authorities. Protasevich was subsequently taken off the aircraft and arrested.

The incident triggered a wave of denunciations by Western governments, and a new round of aggressive sanctions on Belarus. Many anti-interventionist critics pointed out the hypocrisy of the US government’s condemnations, recalling how, in 2013, it forcibly grounded the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales in an egregious violation of international law because it wrongly suspected he was harboring NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Effortlessly ignoring Washington’s own precedent, Western governments and major corporate media outlets blasted the government of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as a brutal dictatorship while lavishing praise on Protasevich, portraying the high-profile opposition figure as a heroic human rights defender.

What they refused to acknowledge is Protasevich’s recent history serving with a neo-Nazi militia in Ukraine, and his extensive ties to other far-right extremist organizations.

A leader of Ukraine’s notorious Azov Battalion, an explicitly neo-Nazi militia that uses white supremacist imagery, publicly acknowledged that Protasevich joined the fight alongside Azov. A Ukrainian newspaper reported that Protasevich worked with the neo-Nazi militia’s press service.

Protasevich personally admitted in an interview to traveling to Ukraine and spending a year battling pro-Russian forces in the eastern war zone of Donbas. He is even suspected of possibly posing with an assault rifle and a military uniform on the front of Azov’s propaganda magazine, which is emblazoned with a large neo-Nazi symbol.

The influence of Azov and similar ultra-nationalist groups in Ukraine has extended well outside of its borders, spilling over into neighboring countries in Eastern Europe, while also influencing politics in Canada and even Hong Kong, where Azov extremists joined a Western-backed “color revolution” operation targeting China.

Full piece here

And what of the incident itself? I know nothing of French journalist Christelle Néant. A quick check led me to Ukraine outlets damning her as a Putinbot and not a ‘real’ journalist. (Echoes here of Julian Assange’s depiction – dropped reluctantly by Obama, picked up again by Trump and continued by Biden – as fair game on the ground he too was not a ‘real’ journalist.) All that tells me is what I already knew: as the stakes rise, truth becomes increasingly hard to get at.

I therefore offer this piece with a health warning. I do not dismiss Ms Néant’s tentatively offered theory – absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – but to my mind it contains glaring weaknesses:

  • The argument that the Ryanair pilot was not ordered to land in Minsk, merely told that Minsk had news of a bomb onboard his aircraft, seems to me the height of sophistry.
  • Even if Minsk was tricked by Kiev into believing a bomb was onboard, that does not explain why it seized the opportunity to arrest Mr Protasevich.

Nevertheless – since I have learned these past few years to dismiss such ideas only where they defy known facts, are logically incoherent or fail basic cui bono tests – here’s Christelle Néant, also writing yesterday (May 26) on why Ukraine may have kick-started the whole affair:


In the early afternoon of 23 May 2021, a Ryanair plane flying from Athens to Vilnius made an emergency landing in Minsk after several airports in Belarus received an email stating that a bomb was on board and that it would explode once the plane was over the Lithuanian capital. Among the passengers was Roman Protasevich, who worked for the Nexta Telegram channel, which was actively involved in organising the anti-Lukashenko protests last year. The Belarusian authorities then arrested Protasevich, triggering literally hysterical reactions from the West, which accused Minsk of having diverted the plane on purpose to arrest the opponent, and threatened Belarus with retaliatory measures whose consequences on the Belarusian economy would not be negligible. What if the diversion of the Ryanair flight carrying Protasevich was a trap set by Ukraine into which Belarus fell with both feet?

This theory may seem rather crazy, but several elements suggest that it is not so insane.

First of all, it should be remembered that contrary to what some Western officials or journalists are shouting, what happened on 23 May has not one but several precedents, including one that took place in Ukraine!

On 21 October 2016, a plane belonging to Belavia (a Belarusian company) was forcibly returned to Kiev’s Zhuliany airport from which it had departed, without any clear explanation or reason. Kiev even threatened to send in fighter jets if the crew did not comply! Once the plane has landed, the Ukrainian authorities arrest one of the passengers, an Armenian citizen named Armen Matirosyan, who is an opponent of the Maidan. At the time, no one in the West cried out that Ukraine had committed a terrorist act (double standards) for this hijacking of a Belarusian plane. Belarus itself did not react hysterically to the incident, nor did it threaten to cut off air links with Ukraine, as the latter has just done after the Ryanair flight incident.

Another fact to remember is that Ukraine was ready to do it again last year! Remember, at the end of July 2020, the Belarusian KGB arrested 33 Russian mercenaries whom Ukraine initially intended to catch when their flight passed over Ukrainian airspace. This time the idea was to get SBU [Ukraine special forces] agents on board to play a sick man and a medical staff member respectively, and simulate a serious health problem to force the plane to land in Ukraine, disembark and arrest the 33 Russians. But the operation did not go according to plan, and Belarus rejected Ukraine’s request to extradite the Russian mercenaries, who returned home.

This monumental failure of the Ukrainian secret services has left its mark in Ukraine. Several political figures accused people close to Zelensky of being responsible for the leak of information that led to the failure of the operation, and asked to question everyone, including the President! In other words, some people in Kiev must have had a hard time digesting this affair and held a grudge against Minsk for this mess. What if Ukraine had decided to take revenge on Belarus by provoking a huge scandal that would have disastrous political, economic and media consequences for Minsk?

Because the idea that Lukashenko would have decided on a whim to divert the Ryanair plane just to arrest Protasevich – knowing that this would trigger an international scandal and potentially disastrous retaliatory measures for Belarus economically – doesn’t add up. Something’s not right.

Indeed it isn’t. Given a waning Western Empire – a homicidal US ruling class at its helm – bent on stopping the unstoppable, i.e. the rise of Eurasia, very little is ever right. Least of all in this neck of the woods. Excuse me while I get my favourite map out for the umpteenth time …

… and here’s where Belarus fits in.

While it is unwise, though depressingly popular in some circles, to rely solely on the cui bono question to establish guilt, in these matters it can certainly aid the elimination of suspects from our enquiries. In that final paragraph of the above extract, Ms Néant does right to raise it. Why would a man of Alexander Lukashenka’s experience risk so much, for so small a pawn?

Just asking.

* * *

  1. Through a 2015 Economist piece I first learned of Israeli-American oil drilling, illegal under international law, in the occupied Golan Heights. Such information does not feature in Guardian or BBC accounts.
  2. The very crudeness of that Russophobia – as in the Guardian lies of Julian Assange meeting Paul Manafort in the Ecuador Embassy – is an indicator of the stakes. On some matters ‘quality’ media are prepared – obliged even – to hold their collectively liberal noses and spray the shit as copiously as any Mail or Sun columnist.
  3. Speaking of limits to journalist access, it would be great if corporate media – from Beeb and Graun to Mail and Telegraph – had the decency to admit they have nobody on the ground in Syria, so rely on such as the CIA backed and terrorist tainted White Helmets, and that one man band in Coventry, the so-called Syrian Observatory on Human Rights.

13 Replies to “Belarus: the plot thickens

  1. Not sure about this explanation. I don’t dismiss it but I have my reservations. Lukashenko is becoming more erratic as all his buttons are being pushed by the western planted activists, not that that is any indication of what really happened. It certainly begs the question Why? Perhaps Lukashenko thinks that the dirty rat on board the plane may spill all with regards what information he might have on the CIA/Kiev experience. If the guy has information I won’t shed any tears if he gives it up.

    • There seems little likelihood of ever finding out one way or the other Susan. There’s always a lot of information fog pumped into these types of events.

      For all we know Protasevich could be a ‘Tommy Murphy’ they decided, for whatever reason, to pull out – perhaps as part of a wider initiative yet to play out? The Establishment in the West have certainly responded in a wholly predictable manner. A Pavlovian reaction providing ammunition Lukashenko is using to highlight the hypocrisy and double standards of a US/Western exceptionalism which bellyaches, without evidence, about “Russian and Chinese interference” in its “democratic” affairs/processes using and providing actual evidence of the opposite being the case:

      The Russian “Pranksters” posing as Tsikhanouskaya quoted in and linked to in the Gray Zone article from the link in this blog piece has certainly provided more reliable and solid evidence of interference in the democratic process than five years and counting of “Russiagate” nonsense from the West.

      Only in this case it’s the opposite way around. That may likely not get traction with a majority amongst Western audiences given the hegemony of the narratives within the propaganderised Western Corporate Media. However, the key public audience is the far larger one outside of the West.

      Right now it looks like someone is playing multi- dimensional chess whilst others are struggling to get to grips with the mechanics of tiddlywinks. I’ll leave it up to youse to decide which narrative is playing which of the above.

      • Well since this post has an epistemological vein running all the way through it, I’ll offer this Dave. It’s always better to know that we don’t know, than to think we know when we don’t!

      • Thanks Dave, I’m a regular reader of Tyler Durden, ZeroHedge and Blumenthall, will use your links in case there’s something I’ve missed out on(Heaven Forbid!).

  2. What can the west do to the Belarus economy though?
    Has Belarus banned all EU flights over its air space?

    • To your first question, impose further crippling sanctions and redouble its efforts at colour revolution to oust Lukashenka and tighten the NATO noose on Moscow.

      To your second I can’t say. I dare say the info is out there.

  3. that does not explain why it seized the opportunity to arrest Mr Protasevich.

    Because he is a terrorist who seeks the violent overthrow of the state and its replacement with a foreign backed regime perhaps?

    • Maybe. But I think Christelle Néant raises a valid point – why would Minsk risk so much for so minor a player as Protasevich? – for which Susan O’Neill (above) offers a possible reason: that Lukashenka has been reduced, by constant threat of colour revolution, to a bag of paranoid nerves. In other words there may be no rational answer as to why the bait, if bait it was, was taken and the man arrested.

  4. As Dave points out, we may never know just what Protasevich knows or believes in, but it is very likely that either he offered himself as a sponsored actor in the CIA and deep state machinations or was approached by said Agency & co because his leanings were already known and he was thought to be useful. Either way, If I have the situation right, he will have information of some sort and as I have already stated, if Lukashenko is desperate to regain control of the country and he is, who knows what he will do next to secure some kind of validation of his rule, he’s certainly not winning the battle as things stand.

    • Relevant here is a recent and even more recently updated Moon of Alabama report. Having reminded us that Minsk has invited international observers in …

      The [Belarus] aviation department report closes with this:

      [We] … have taken and will continue to take the necessary measures [under] international and national legislation aimed at ensuring reliable protection of civil aviation from acts of unlawful interference.

      [To this end we have] invited representatives of ICAO, IATA, EASA, and EU and USA Civil Aviation Authorities.

      … Moon of Alabama goes on to comment:

      Those international organizations should accept the invitation and take a deeper look at the issue. They should talk to the pilots and listen to the radio traffic as recorded by the cockpit voice recorder. I am convinced that they will find that everything happened exactly as the Belorussian authorities said. They received a bomb threat against the plane, informed the pilot and recommended to land in Minsk. The pilot weighted the circumstances and decided correctly to follow the advise.

      There is only one big question for which we have yet to find an answer.

      Who send the email that led to all this and for which purpose?

      One can easily construe motives for both sides.

      A. Belarus secret services wanted to capture Roman Protasevich no matter what and sent the email. They were willing to accept the predictable sanctions that would follow such a move.

      B. The regime change gang that met in Greece wanted new attention and fresh sanctions on Belarus. Someone in the team sent the email. The group was willing to accept a few years of jail time for Protasevich who might or might not have been in on this.

      I have no further evidence to decide if A or B is right. There is however a lot of historic evidence that ‘western’ supported regime-changers are extremely ruthless and willing to play with the lives and well being of other people. My gut feeling therefore tends to B.

      I’m inclined to agree with the M of A writer’s suspicions but, as Dave Hansell points out on this thread, there’s much here that we can’t and likely never will know. But two thing we do know. One, as the stakes rise the systemic ability of corporate media to tell us the truth or explore dangerous questions plummets correspondingly. Two, on Russia’s Western borderlands – up there with Middle East and South China Sea as one of the three likeliest flashpoints for WW3 – the stakes are always high.

  5. I might also add that I do not judge Lukashenko as being any worse than the “superior” FUKUS(France,UK,US). Said regimes just do a better job of justifying and misrepresenting their abuse of the people and the respective corruption attendant in their Human Rights abuses.

    • That almost goes without saying Susan – but it does no harm to reiterate the point. It’s also worth adding that critical minds should always start from a place of scepticism in the face of an individual or group lionised (be it Protasevitch, Thunberg or the Kurds). Ditto in the face of an individual or group demonised (be it Lukashenka, Putin or China’s CCP). Our start point should be cui bono? Whose interests do such narratives serve?

      This of course is subject to the caveat I gave in the penultimate paragraph of my post. Cui bono can seldom if ever deliver decisive proof. But as powerful evidence, to aid and focus our inquiries, we ignore it at our peril.

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