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Putin and Lukashenko to discuss Ryanair plane diversion and Russian student’s arrest during Sochi meeting on May 28

Source: Meduza

During Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Alexander Lukashenko in Sochi on Friday, May 28, the Kremlin expects the Belarusian president to inform the Russian president about the situation surrounding the Ryanair plane diversion and the arrest of Russian student Sofia Sapega, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on May 27.

On May 23, a Ryanair passenger flight travelling from Athens to Vilnius was forced to make an emergency landing at the Minsk National Airport. This took place following reports from the Belarusian authorities of a bomb threat on board the flight (this later proved false). Belarus sent an MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the passenger plane to Minsk.

After the landing, the Belarusian authorities detained two passengers from the plane — Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who is a Russian citizen. The remaining passengers from the flight were allowed to continue their journey to Vilnius after a seven-hour delay. Many European countries believe the Belarusian authorities hijacked the passenger plane in order to arrest Protasevich.

Peskov also didn’t rule out the possibility that Moscow will “de jure raise the issue” of Minsk handing over Sapega. “In any case, the Russian side will do everything necessary to protect the rights of a Russian citizen. Given the special nature of our interstate relations, this protection of rights can be carried out in a variety of formats,” the Kremlin’s spokesman added. 

Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen and a student at Lithuania’s European Humanities University, was arrested in Belarus on May 23 after the Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair passenger plane traveling from Athens to Vilnius to divert to Minsk. Sapega was traveling with her boyfriend, Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Protasevich, who was also detained at the Minsk National Airport. Many European countries believe the Belarusian authorities hijacked the passenger plane in order to arrest Protasevich. 

On May 25, the Belarusian authorities remanded Sapega in custody for two months on unspecified charges. That same day, a pro-government Telegram channel published a 30-second “confession video,” in which Sapega claims to be the editor of the opposition Telegram channel “Black Book of Belarus,” which “publishes the personal information of officials from internal affairs bodies.” Later, the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that Sapega stands accused of organizing mass riots in Belarus, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

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