Russian passport-holders kept a wary eye on Belarusian blogger Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega for days in Greece before they boarded a flight to Belarus, VICE World News reports with reference to Greek officials.
“Officials from the Greek National Intelligence Service (EYP in local initials) told local press outlets that at least three unknown operatives were tracking Pratasevich throughout Athens since his arrival before the conference on the 9th of May. After the conference ended on the 16th of May, it is believed that Pratasevich went on holiday for several days in Crete with his partner, where they were also under observation by what are believed to be Russian or Belarusian intelligence officers,” the article by Mitchell Prothero reads.
According to the Interior Ministry official who asked not to be identified, CCTV footage from hotels, from Crete, from the airport prove that the couple was being spied upon by intelligence professionals carrying Russian passports. The Greek special services believe these people operated on behalf of Belarus and helped determine that Pratasevich was on board the plane as it passed over Belarus.
The Greek services were reportedly angry over what they see as a betrayal of unofficial rules that should prohibit aggressive operations inside an EU capital city, VICE added.
On May 23, a Ryanair’s Boeing 737-8AS flying over Belarus was forced to land in Minsk by the local authorities claiming that they got the information about a bomb planted onboard. Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka personally gave the order; to ‘escort’ the passenger carrier, a MiG-29 fighter was scrambled. It should be noted that the plane was not far from the Belarusian-Lithuanian air border at that moment; it was at a distance of 90 km from Vilnius and about 200 km – from Minsk. Emigre journalist Raman Pratasevich and his companion, Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, were arrested by security services in the Belarusian capital city. The operation of forcibly landing the Ryanair airplane seems to have been deliberately planned and performed by pro-Lukashenka secret services.
In the wake of the controversial situation, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary slammed Belarusian officials, labelling the steps taken by them as ‘state-sponsored hijacking’.
The outrageous incident has triggered a mighty international row. Politicians, diplomats, international organisations denounced the actions of the Lukashenka regime. The participants in the European Council meeting held on May, 24 strongly condemned the recent forced landing of the flight and, among other things, called for adopting the necessary measures to ban overflight of EU airspace by Belarusian airlines and prevent access to EU airports of flights operated by them. US President Joe Biden called the grounding of the Ryanair plane and the arrest of the journalist ‘shameful assaults on political dissent’.
On May 27, G7 foreign ministers and EU High Representative Josep Borrell announced ‘enhancing efforts to promote accountability for the actions of the Belarus authorities’.