WARSAW – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has once again demonstrated the lengths to which he will go to crack down on his opponents. On May 23, he deployed a MiG-29 fighter jet to force down a commercial flight, which was traveling from Athens to Vilnius, shortly before it left Belarusian airspace. The purpose was to apprehend Roman Protasevich, the former editor-in-chief of the Belarusian opposition publication and social-media channel Nexta, who was arrested after the plane landed in Minsk.
Why a regime that is already under U.S. and EU sanctions would go so far as to hijack a plane traveling from one EU member state to another is not hard to fathom. Nexta is Lukashenko’s public enemy No. 1. More than just a news portal with millions of followers across multiple social-media platforms (especially Telegram), Nexta has been the single most important conduit for information in Belarus since the country’s fraudulent presidential election last August.