Belarus ‘Hijacking’ Set in Context of ‘More Assertive’ Russia, Says NATO Chief

June 2, 2021 Updated: June 2, 2021

Sanctions against Belarus for the “hijacking” of a passenger plane carrying a journalist who had been critical of the Lukashenko regime must be “fully implemented,” the head of NATO has said.

Secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg met Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Downing Street on Wednesday and the pair discussed the future of the alliance ahead of a leaders’ meeting in Brussels on June 14.

Speaking to journalists afterwards, Johnson suggested “standing together against threats from the east” is likely to feature heavily on the agenda for the summit, as the NATO chief said the Belarus incident had ties with the “assertive” behaviour of Russia.

Stoltenberg said the arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich was “absolutely unacceptable” and added that NATO has called for him and his girlfriend to be released as well as for an “impartial international investigation” to be carried out.

Epoch Times Photo
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg had talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street, UK, on June 2, 2021. (Justin Tallis/PA)

He said: “I welcome sanctions imposed by the United Kingdom and other NATO allies and the EU.”

And he said those steps send a message that there are “consequences when the regime in Minsk behave the way they did.”

But he added: “I think the most important thing now is to make sure that those sanctions that are agreed are fully implemented, and I also know that the other allies are looking into whether they can step up further.

“It has to be clear that, when a regime like the regime in Minsk behaves the way they did, violating basic international norms and rules, we will impose costs on them.

“And I’m also sure that the NATO leaders when they meet, this will be an issue they will discuss.”

He said that, while this will focus on the behaviour of Belarus, it is also part of their response to a “more assertive” Russia.

He said: “We also see Russia and Belarus are working closely together.”

It comes after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged NATO to work together to tackle the threat of “hostile states like Russia.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Raab spoke with their allied counterparts on Tuesday.

And Raab, who also met Stoltenberg on Wednesday, used Tuesday’s meeting to reiterate his concerns about Russia, including the situation in Ukraine, GRU military intelligence officers being behind the deaths of two civilians and an explosion in the Czech town of Vrbetice, and the limiting of staff at the U.S. and Czech Embassies—defying the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

He said: “The UK is supporting and reinforcing NATO as we rise to the challenge of tackling hostile states like Russia, whilst also adapting to face new threats—from dangerous cyber attacks to poisonous misinformation, put about by those who want to undermine our way of life.”

Johnson said NATO has been “really outstanding” in supporting the UK against Russian aggression, pointing to the Salisbury poisonings in 2018.

“You will remember a lot of NATO allies came together and expelled diplomats in sympathy with the UK for what happened [with] the assassination attempt on the Skripals,” he said.

“But what we want to do is make sure that we work together to defend, protect ourselves against cyber threats, against all the kinds of intimidation that some NATO members still feel there on NATO’s eastern borders, and we work together to protect against that.”

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister stressed the UK’s commitment to NATO as demonstrated through our record investment in defence spending and our commitment of cutting-edge technology, including the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, to the alliance.

“The leaders discussed a number of issues affecting NATO, including the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. They agreed on the need to ensure Afghanistan has a long-term peaceful and democratic future.

“They also condemned the recent actions taken by Belarus to arrest Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega. They agreed the Belarusian regime must release political prisoners and provide a full explanation for what happened.

“The Prime Minister emphasised his support for the secretary-general’s vision for NATO’s future. The leaders agreed that NATO is essential to transatlantic security and has an important role to play in tackling wider geopolitical challenges like climate change.”

By Geraldine Scott