Alexander Lukashenko: Belarusian strongman tries to turn the tables in combative interview

Challenged on human rights abuses, together with assaults on protesters, a bomb menace that compelled a airplane to land permitting Belarusian authorities to arrest dissidents on board, and what the European Union calls the “weaponization” of migrants, Lukashenko tried to deflect something destructive.

“That is insanity,” he mentioned of Polish authorities claims that Belarus was dumping migrants on their border.

However the stress between Belarus and the EU is actual.

So is the truth that most airways are now not overflying Belarusian territory. That motion was triggered when a vocal critic of Lukashenko’s regime was taken into custody in Could from a Ryanair airplane heading from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania.

The Ryanair flight was allowed to resume its journey to Vilnius after two dissidents were removed from the plane.
A Belarusian fighter jet intercepted the passenger plane in Belarus airspace because it was instructed to make an emergency touchdown in Minsk by native air visitors controllers who mentioned they feared there was a bomb on board. As soon as on the bottom, Belarusian authorities arrested exiled dissident journalist Roman Protasevich alongside his Russian girlfriend, earlier than permitting the plane to depart.

A Belarusian official claimed the Palestinian militant group Hamas had despatched an e mail saying there was a bomb aboard the flight. A Hamas spokesman denied the allegation as “faux information.” Protasevich’s supporters mentioned it was a fantastical ruse to get the airplane on the bottom in Minsk.

Pressed by CNN on whether or not there was a real bomb menace or whether or not it had been manufactured as an excuse to arrest a critic, Lukashenko merely insisted his nation adopted worldwide legal guidelines.

“If you’re afraid to fly over our territory, I can personally assure your security and that of your organization, your nation or every other nation when flying over Belarus, simply as ever earlier than,” Lukashenko instructed CNN.

“If you happen to select to not fly, that is tremendous, OK, fly over the North Pole or the South Pole, that’s your proper, I can’t drive you. I am not as highly effective as Nice Britain, not to mention the USA, to dictate any phrases. If you happen to do not fly, others will, as you have simply mentioned. That is tremendous, we’ll get by.”

Lukashenko makes a victory sign for his supporters after the disputed 2020 election.

Lukashenko, a temperamental former collective farm boss, has been president of Belarus since 1994, its first and solely chief because the fall of the Soviet Union.

Known as “Europe’s final dictator,” his iron grip on his nation has develop into more and more forceful, particularly since final yr’s vote.

His public appearances are tightly managed and he’s usually surrounded by fawning countrymen.

On the CNN interview within the Palace of Independence, he weaved and ducked, making an attempt to show the problems onto the West.

Confronted with particulars of a few of the victims of the tough, even lethal, remedy of these in opposition to him, he said he had nothing to apologize for.

“I do not suppose that is even a related query, and in precept, I’ve nothing to apologize for,” he mentioned.

CNN cited proof from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty Worldwide of some detainees reporting accidents together with damaged bones and burns, whereas others mentioned they had been compelled to lie bare in dust whereas being assaulted.

Lukashenko responded: “You realize, we do not have a single detention middle, as you say, like Guantanamo, or these bases that the USA and your nation created in Jap Europe … As regards our personal detention facilities, the place we maintain these accused or these underneath investigation, they’re no worse than in Britain or the USA. I can assure you that.”

He introduced up the death of Ashli Babbitt, shot and killed as she tried to crawl through a broken window leading to the Speaker’s Lobby throughout the January 6 revolt on the US Capitol, falsely saying CNN and others “maintain quiet about it.”

He first appeared reluctant to even say the identify of opposition chief Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who left Belarus after the election that was broadly seen as fraudulent.

Then he mentioned Tikhanovskaya had not needed to flee. “I swear by my kids that Tikhanovskaya was not fleeing wherever,” he mentioned.

US President Joe Biden meets with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in the White House in July.
Tikhanovskaya is regarded by Europe and the USA as having had the election stolen from her. She was granted a White Home meeting in July with President Joe Biden, who tweeted he had been “honored” to satisfy her, including the US “stands with the individuals of Belarus of their quest for democracy and common human rights.”

Lukashenko paints a rosy image of life in Belarus, saying households are protected to exit.

On the streets of Minsk, the individuals we met did appear afraid of one thing although. Most didn’t cease to talk to CNN and rapidly hurried away.

One younger man who did speak gave a blunt evaluation of why individuals had been scared. “That is Belarus,” he mentioned. “The police can arrest you and me.”

Lukashenko, here with troops near the Polish and Ukrainian borders, paints himself as a strongman.

Again in Independence Palace, Lukashenko mentioned his individuals understood him. That he was joking when he mentioned coronavirus may very well be warded off with a shot of vodka and a sauna.

He cultivates a picture as a person of the individuals, a robust chief and a maverick on the world stage.

However nonetheless, he watches what he says.

“I’m not going to confess to something in entrance of you. I’m not underneath investigation. So please select your phrases fastidiously,” he mentioned In a single reply.

He veered between not being a “weakling” who would care about having revenge in opposition to the EU for sanctions, to threatening reprisals ought to relations with the West deteriorate additional.

Lukashenko attended a hockey match with his ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin,  in Sochi, Russia, in 2020.

However it’s weak point that his critics say is pushing Lukashenko ever nearer to a different strongman subsequent door, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who has offered lots of of thousands and thousands of {dollars} in monetary support — Kremlin assist that’s more likely to include strings.

The nearer financial, political, and army integration has fueled hypothesis that Lukashenko would be the final in addition to the primary Belarusian President, successfully merging his nation with Russia.

In a single breath, he denies this.

“Putin and I are clever sufficient to create a union of two unbiased states that will be stronger collectively than separate. Sovereignty will not be on the market,” he mentioned.

Within the subsequent breath, he suggests what might occur if there’s provocation.

“If we have to, Belarus will flip into one army base for Russia and Belarus with the intention to face up to your aggression, in case you determine, or if anyone nation decides to assault. And try to be clear on this, I’ve by no means made any secret of it.”

CNN’s Katharina Krebs contributed to this story.

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