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Editorial

Letter from Athens: Enough Is Not Enough: Belarus Scorns Greece, EU

May 30, 2021

For 25 years, the Eunuch Union has been going soft on Belarus and Dictator Alexander Lukashenko so that he won't tilt toward Russia, apparently not knowing it's dealing with Belarusians and a country where Russian is an official language, not French.

The same approach of appeasement has been tried and failed repeatedly with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan under the EU's ‘Soft Power’, policy which is about as effective as a viagra placebo.

The graduates of Brussels' Neville Chamberlain School of Diplomacy keep thinking that groveling before authoritarian leaders will make them embrace democracy, like in Hungary and Bulgaria, where corrupt leaders laugh all the way to the bank with EU subsidies.

So after Lukashenko ordered a fighter jet to force a Ryanair flight from Athens to Lithuania's capital of Vilnius to land so that a prominent blogger-journalist, Roman Protasevich, could be arrested, the EU went into slow motion again.

Protasevich is a co-founder of the Nexta app that's used with the encrypted Telegram messaging service on mobile phones and social media that protesters in Belarus used to organize demonstrations against Lukashenko rigging his re-election in 2020, so the kidnapping and forced landing threatens media freedom.

Despite Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis correctly saying “enough is enough,” and demanding tough penalties for the arrest of Protasevich – who had been a guest of Greece and appeared at the Delphi Forum – all that resulted was more limp wrist slaps.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda did call it a “state-sponsored terror act,” and Mitsotakis led the way before EU leaders sat down to desperately figure some way to appear tough and said they “must agree … there will be clear and severe consequences that will leave no room for Belarus to question our unity and determination.”

Skipping over its usual platitude of “concern” and moving past “fake concern,” the EU called on EU-based airliners to stop flying over Belarus and said it would move to ban Belarusian airlines from flying over the bloc's space.

Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to begin an investigation to determine whether to blacklist flights to Belarus and its airspace but the group can't ban them.

“It is absolutely obvious that this is an operation by the special services to hijack an aircraft in order to detain activist and blogger Raman Pratasevich,” she said. “Not a single person who flies over Belarus can be sure of his safety,” she added.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was a “shocking act” by the country’s leadership that threatened press freedom and the lives of 120 people on board, including 11 Greeks, all at risk.

The EU said it would consider tougher economic sanctions after imposing penalties for the crackdown on the media and on dissent in Belarus, which did nothing to stop Lukashenko. And after the muddled response to a country bringing down an airplane, he was emboldened more.

Since he got away with this the worry has to be whether any airplane will be safe flying over Belarus if it's carrying someone he wants to get, easy to do, fabricating another fake bomb threat as happened in this case, sending up a fighter jet and making it land in Minsk.

The problem for the EU – and Greece – is that Russian President Vladimir Putin has Lukashenko's back on this and the EU wants the NordStream pipeline that will carry gas from Russia to Germany to go ahead. So does the United States, which pulled back from its objections when Blinken blinked in fear of Russia.

Greece wants to keep Russia in its corner too, so it can't push too hard for sanctions because they won't go anywhere as the EU is terrified that Belarus will become Belarussian, as it already is under Lukashenko.

While the EU was pretending it would get tough, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was in Russia talking with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and you know the Belarusian Incident wasn't on the table there.

EU sanctions are about as effective as American boycotts against sports rules changes, and the bloc's leaders were using bluster with an empty blunderbuss in briefly beating their chest before the story faded away from the headlines.

U.S. President Joe Biden, who on World Press Freedom Day said he wanted to protect journalists, except those that Saudi Arabia kills, also called for an international investigation and backed the EU's call for mystery sanctions.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, humiliated in Turkey when Erdogan made her stand, accused Belarus of using its "control over its airspace in order to perpetrate a state hijacking,” and then nothing happened.

Since 2016, the EU has given Belarus about 30 million euros ($36 million) in annual aid which, of course, was earmarked for the people of the country but look for it in the National Bank of Lukashenko, so cutting off aid is a sanction.

There was no indication major airlines would avoid Belarus air space because it's on the way to Asia and flying around would cost too much in fuel which they aren't going to spend after almost being wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The next time, a Belarus fighter jet could bring the plane down by the means Russia prefers: check Malaysian Flight 17 and Korean Airlines Flight 007.

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