MOSCOW (Dispatches) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko support in his standoff with the West.
Lukashenko flew into Russia on Friday for talks with Putin amid an uproar in Europe over the grounding of a passenger plane in Minsk and the arrest of a dissident blogger.
In a meeting with Lukashenko in Sochi on Friday, Putin said the West’s reaction to the grounding of a passenger jet and the arrest of a dissident was “an outburst of emotion.”
The U.S. and allied European countries have accused Belarus of piracy after Belarusian air traffic control on Sunday informed the Ryanair pilot of a hoax bomb threat and scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the passenger plane down.
The Russian president reminded the Europeans of the forcing down of the plane carrying former Bolivian president Evo Morales on U.S. orders.
“At one time they forced the Bolivian president’s plane to land and took him out of the plane and nothing, silence,” Putin said, referring to a 2013 incident in which Morales’ presidential aircraft was forced to land in Austria at a time the U.S. was trying to intercept whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The talks between Putin and Lukashenko in the Black Sea city of Sochi were planned prior to the plane incident -- in which dissident blogger Roman Protasevich, wanted in Belarus on terrorism charges, was detained along with his Russian companion -- but came after many European states imposed flight bans on Belarusian aviation as the EU is mulling further sanctions.
The U.S. announced on Friday it was working with the EU on sanction measures against key members of Lukashenko’s government in response to the the incident.
During the meeting, Lukashenko told Putin he would share with him confidential documents about the Ryanair incident to explain what really happened.
“There is always someone who causes problems for us. You know about them, I’ll inform you,” Lukashenko told Putin as reported by media outlets. “I brought some documents so that you understand what is happening.”
Russia says Belarus has demonstrated a readiness for transparency in the row with Western governments. It has described the West’s reaction to the plane incident as “shocking,” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slamming Western effort to “demonize” the authorities in Minsk.
Talks between Putin and his Belarusian counterpart continued into a second day on Saturday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“Discussion between the two presidents continue today,” Peskov was quoted as saying by TASS news agency.