Belarus strongman Aleksandr Lukashenko, who diverted a passenger airplane carrying a journalist and government dissident on board this week, defended his actions Wednesday as necessary to quell a bomb threat, AP reports.
Why it matters: The incident, which EU leaders have called a "hijacking," has drawn international condemnation and further isolated Lukashenko, who is often referred to as "Europe's last dictator."
Driving the news: EU nations have banned Belarusian airlines, told European airlines not to fly over the country, and promised more economic sanctions. Lukashenko described the retaliation as a “hybrid war” to “strangle” Belarus.
- “Our ill-wishers outside and inside the country have changed their methods of attacking the state,” Lukashenko said Wednesday. “That’s why they switched from organizing riots to trying to strangle us.”
- “I acted in a lawful way, protecting people in line with international rules,” Lukashenko claimed.
Catch up quick: The plane was in Belarusian airspace headed to Lithuania when pilots were told to land in Minsk — and escorted there by a Belarusian fighter jet — because of “a potential security threat on board," according a statement from Ryanair.
- Journalist Raman Protasevich, a prominent opposition figure living in exile, reportedly told other passengers he was facing the death penalty before he was arrested during the stop. No bomb was found on board.
- Lukashenko said it was an “absolute lie” that the fighter jet forced the Ryanair plane to land.
- The CEO of Ryanair described the incident as a "state-sponsored hijacking."