Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus, recently claimed that his Government did nothing “illegal” by arresting Raman Dzmitryevič Pratasevič, a Belarusian activist, journalist, former Editor-in-chief of the Telegram channel Nexta and Chief Editor of the Telegram channel ‘Belarus of the Brain’. Instead, it was a moral step to save the people of Belarus, stressed the president. President Lukashenko issued such a statement soon after the European Union (EU) and the US strongly criticised Minsk for detaining 26-year-old Pratasevič, known for his outspoken criticism of the Government. He also said: “Our ill-wishers at home and abroad have changed their methods of attacking the state. They have crossed many red lines and crossed boundaries of common sense and human morality.” Lukashenko, commonly known as Europe’s last dictator, has been ruling the former Soviet state for the last 26 years.
It may be noted that Pratasevič moved to Poland in late 2019 and became Editor-in-chief of the opposition Telegram channels Nexta and Nexta Live (Belarusian for “someone“). That’s what eventually led to his undoing. The young journalist was onboard a passenger flight from Athens to Vilnius on May 23 when the aircraft was diverted by the concerned authorities while in Belarusian airspace, over a supposed bomb threat. The act prompted a global outcry to Minsk’s forced landing of the aircraft. Later, he was being held in a pretrial detention facility in the Belarusian capital. “I am in Detention Centre No 1 in Minsk. I can say that I have no health problems, including with my heart or any other organs,” Pratasevič reportedly said in the clip that appears to have been filmed on a phone camera. The Belarusian authorities also detained Pratasevič’s Russian partner Sofia Sapega.
Later on May 25, a “confession” video of Sophia went viral on Internet. She was heard admitting that while serving as editor of the Telegram (an app), Pratasevič had leaked personal information of a Belarusian police officer (a crime under Belarusian law). However, Opposition parties have expressed doubt over the authenticity of the video, as Sophia was seen feeling uncomfortable in it.
As the EU has imposed fresh sanctions on Belarus, Russia has denied entry to European airlines. Moscow reportedly refused permission to at least two European airlines to fly to the Russian capital after the carriers requested to fly an alternative route bypassing Belarusian airspace. With this, Kremlin has underlined Moscow’s support for Belarusian President Lukashenko’s regime. It may be noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin, too, has been harassing Opposition leader, lawyer and anti-corruption activist Alexei Anatolievich Navalny for long. Perhaps, dictatorship has become an integral part of many former Soviet States.
Pratasevič Clearly A Dangerous Western Intelligence Operative
by Christopher Lewis
Who is Belarus opposition figure Raman Pratasevič, who was onboard the flight that the Belarusian Government “hijacked” that was en route from Athens to Vilnius? According to a report published in RT in 2017, Pratasevič received a tag of journalist from a Czech Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), and in the same year also worked for the US state broadcaster Radio Liberty. In April 2018, he made a trip to Washington, where he reportedly visited the US State Department for meetings. He, then, worked at the USAID-funded Euroradio until the end of 2019. In December 2019, Pratasevič emigrated to Poland, where he applied for political asylum. In Poland, he became involved in the NEXTA project. According to RT reports, NEXTA organises and orchestrates protests in Belarus and Russia with the support of Western regime-change experts. And, NEXTA has just started hiring people on the Internet for a programme to train Belarusian volunteers to conduct activities for a coup in the country. It also publishes personal details of Belarusian security officials, leaving them open to attacks.
Pratasevič worked with NEXTA from February 2020 until he separated from its founder Stepan Putilo at the end of September. He, then, moved to Lithuania, where he co-operated with the staff of the ex-presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. As early as 2011-12, Pratasevič co-ordinated protest groups on the Social Media, such as ‘We’re sick of Lukashenko‘. In 2011, he joined a Belarusian nationalist organisation ‘Young Front‘, in which he became a leading official. By the end of 2013, he was in Kiev, where he took part in the Maidan protests and the destruction of the Lenin monument in Kiev on December 8. By 2014, he was in Eastern Ukraine as a ‘freelancer‘, making video recordings and reporting from the front. Other sources claim that he received brief combat training from the right-wing extremist Azov Battalion, and worked in its press service. According to the FOIA Research portal, Pratasevič was a sympathiser of a far-right Belarusian unit Pahonia Detachment, which sent fighters to Eastern Ukraine, and also took part in protests organised by the Black Block group in Belarus in early 2017.
So, while it might be a bit of a stretch, one can assert that Pratasevič is an obvious Western intelligence operative, acting against the Belarusian Government from his own statements and actions. This offers, if not more, at least the same justification for the Belausian authorities to act as the Obama Administration had done in 2013, when it had forced the landing of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ aircraft, attempting to arrest Edward Snowden, whom it believed was onboard the plane. Snowden wasn’t onboard, but President Morales was!
This article has been co-written by Koushik Das and Christopher Lewis of Schiller Institute, Frankfurt, Germany.
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