Chair of the Riigikogu's foreign affairs committee Marko Mihkelson (Reform) says that it would be more surprising if the Kremlin had been unaware of Sunday's forced landing in Minsk of a civilian airliner destined for Vilnius, than if it had been aware.
Speaking to ETV foreign affairs show "Välisilm" Monday night, Mihkelson said: "I am absolutely convinced that a terrorist attack of this magnitude, one which has never been supported by any country in Europe - the hijacking of an aircraft on the basis of so-called national sanctions - I would be very surprised if the Russian leadership had not been aware of it."
"We would have been surprised if Russia's own special services, which are in fact one and the same organization with the Belarusian KGB, had not been of some assistance, even though we know that this plane, which flew from Athens to Vilnius and was forced to land in Minsk during the hijacking, also in the process detained four Russian citizens, two of whom are still unidentified," Mihkelson said.
One of the four Russian citizens who have been identified is Sofia Sapega, partner of Belarusian journalist and opposition leader Roman Protasevich, whose presence on the flight was the cause of Sunday's forced diversion from Vilnius, Lithuania, to Minsk, while the plane was still in Belarusian airspace and involving the presence of a Belarusian air force MiG 29 fighter. Protasevich is according to reports facing the death penalty in Belarus.
Mihkelson said the bigger picture behind the whole saga must be seen as lying in the political struggle for Belarus. Russia's interests here are immediate, he said.
"Russia's strategic goal is to do everything possible to ensure that Belarus does not in any way move towards free elections and does not turn, at least as an alternative, towards the path of integration with the EU, as Ukraine has already done," Mihkelson said.
"Consequently, Russia's goal now is to capitalize on a situation where Belarus and the Lukashenko regime is isolated as far as possible from Europe and the western world," Mihkelson added, noting that the suspension by some EU countries of Belarusian national carrier Belavia flights, and calls to close of the country's airspace, have played directly towards that end.
Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term in last August's presidential elections, in polls that have widely been condemned as rigged. Crackdowns on protests in the aftermath of the elections have been vigorous, while EU state Latvia's expulsion of Belarusian diplomats has led to Minsk responding by kicking out the Latvian diplomatic representation almost in its entirety.
Mihkelson also echoed comments made Monday by Indrek Kannik, head of the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS), that the incident could be categorized as state-sponsored terrorism.
Editor: Andrew Whyte