MINSK, May 26. /TASS/. Opposition figure Roman Protasevich, who was taken into custody after the grounding of a Ryanair flight in Minsk, and his accomplices had plotted a massacre and a bloody coup in Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko said on Wednesday.
"One extremist with his female accomplice. So let his numerous Western patrons answer this question: Which intelligence services did this individual work for? Not only him but his accomplice as well. These Western advocates should answer one more question: who paid him for taking part in the war in Donbass? Perhaps, they fear this the most. So they’re making a fuss. His experience as a mercenary is huge. <...> These facts are well-known not only here, but in brotherly Russia, and also throughout the world. And he did not hide this. Well, here, in Belarus, he and his accomplices also plotted a massacre and a bloody coup," Lukashenko was quoted by the Belarus Segodnya newspaper as saying.
The Belarusian president stressed that "there was a terrorist on that plane." "According to the law, this person had been put on a terrorist list, and his organization is recognized as an extremist one. Who does not know this? And that we detained him, a Belarusian national, and his partner who holds our residence permit at the airport, this is our sovereign right to do so," Lukashenko stressed.
Emergency landing and Protasevich's detention
On May 23, a Vilnius-bound Ryanair flight that took off from Athens was forced to make an emergency landing at Minsk International Airport after a reported bomb threat. A Mikoyan MiG-29 jet was scrambled to escort the plane. The bomb threat came up empty after the aircraft had been inspected and no explosives were found. The Belarusian Investigative Committee opened a criminal case into the bomb hoax. Minsk specified that Roman Protasevich, wanted in Belarus as a co-founder of the Nexta Telegram channel, which the Belarusian authorities recognized as extremist, had been among the flight's passengers. He was detained by law enforcement agents. Russian citizen Sofia Sapega was detained together with him for two months and was placed in a State Security Committee (KGB) detention facility. The flight departed later that same day, continuing on to its final destination of Vilnius. Following the incident, some countries either suspended flights to and from Belarus or recommended their air carriers refrain from using Belarusian airspace.
Nationwide demonstrations engulfed Belarus following the presidential election held on August 9, 2020. According to the Central Election Commission's official results, incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko won by a landslide, garnering 80.10% of the vote. His closest rival in the race, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, came in second, with 10.12% of the ballot. However, she refused to recognize the election's outcome and left Belarus for Lithuania. After the results of the exit polls were announced late on August 9, mass protests erupted in downtown Minsk and other Belarusian cities. During the early post-election period, the rallies snowballed into fierce clashes between the protesters and the police. According to the country's authorities, protest activities were coordinated via Telegram channels and groups across messengers and social networks.
Nexta was the first Telegram channel to be outlawed by Belarus' Supreme Court as extremist on October 20, 2020. Charges of organizing mass riots and inciting social hatred were brought against its founder Stepan Putilo and former editor-in-chief Roman Protasevich.