Britain needs a long-term plan is tackle “criminal outrages by gangster regimes,” a former military chief has said.
Lord Stirrup made the call at Westminster as he argued that the “egregious act” of Belarus forcing the diversion of a passenger jet to arrest a journalist and prominent government critic was not an isolated incident.
The independent crossbencher, who led the armed forces as chief of the defence staff from October 2006, highlighted the “murderous attacks with vile poisons” on UK soil as well as cyber interference in the nation’s political processes, which have been blamed on the Kremlin.
Lord Stirrup’s comments came after the detention of Roman Protasevich following what has been branded a “state-sponsored hijack.”
He was on board a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius when it was forced to change course to head for the Belarusian capital, Minsk, after a reported bomb scare, escorted by a MiG fighter jet.
Protasevich subsequently appeared in a video released by the authorities in which he appeared to admit he was involved in organising mass protests in the country last year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described the footage as “deeply distressing” and called for his release.
Speaking in Parliament, Lord Stirrup said: “Does the minister agree that this egregious act is not just an isolated incident but is part of a wider pattern of criminal outrages perpetrated by gangster regimes, which in this country alone has included murderous attacks with vile poisons and electronic attempts to subvert our democracy?
“What is required now is not just a strong immediate response to the Belarus incident but a longer-term strategy to counter such regimes and to thwart their malign purposes.”
Responding, Foreign Office minister Lord Goldsmith of Richmond said: “Our approach to tackling these escalating problems in Belarus, which go far further than events over the last couple of days, is part of a broader approach that we take.”
The UK and EU have issued new sanctions against Belarus in light of the arrest.
Alexander Lukashenko has been president of Belarus since the post was established in 1994 and won re-election for a sixth time in 2020 with 80 percent of the vote, in a ballot deemed “neither free nor fair” by the European Union.
Since winning the disputed election last August, Lukashenko has cracked down on dissenting voices, with many opposition figures arrested and others forced into exile.
Independent crossbencher Lord Russell of Liverpool said he had been part of a team monitoring the parliamentary election in Belarus and witnessed the 64-year-old president appoint his 22-year-old mistress, an ex-Miss Belarus, as an MP.
“That is his definition of democracy,” said Lord Russell.
He urged the UK Government to work with other trading partners to “hit Belarus where it hurts.”
Leading lawyer and Labour peer Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws pressed for the use of targeted sanctions to be extended to more individuals.
She highlighted a “hugely rich oligarch” living in London who is funding Lukashenko “up to his ears.”