U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a stark reprimand of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday over allegations that he personally ordered fighter jets to scramble in part of the effort to divert a commercial airliner carrying an opposition figure.
The Mig-29 fighters were thought to be responding to a bomb threat, but no bomb was ever found. The opposition figure was arrested in Minsk. Critics said the move was tantamount to a government-sanctioned hijacking.
“We strongly condemn the Lukashenka regime’s brazen and shocking act to divert a commercial flight and arrest a journalist,” Blinken tweeted. “We demand an international investigation and are coordinating with our partners on next steps. The United States stands with the people of Belarus.”
Raman Pratasevich, the 26-year-old journalist, faces charges that he reportedly says could result in the death penalty. He was aboard a Ryanair flight from Athens to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius when it changed course to head for Minsk. Flight tracker sites indicated the plane was about six miles from the Lithuanian border when it was diverted.