Flight diversion in Belarus is a criminal act

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer, here. Happy Monday to you. And yeah, I'm not in New York. I'm in Nantucket for a few days, working as usual, but I'm willing, I'm trying will summer into being. And the shirt, if nothing else, is annoying and distracting people and making me feel more summery.

But not so summery in Belarus, my goodness. The Belarusian president, illegitimate ostensibly reelected through fake elections, President Alexander Lukashenko. You remember all of the demonstrations against him, the support for the opposition movement in Europe and the United States. Not so much in Russia and President Putin and kind of petered out and police repression and he gets to still run the country, Mr. Lukashenko. And now, has engaged in what European leaders are calling state terrorism. Certainly, a hijacking, a level of piracy, with a Ryanair plane, that's an Ireland flagged carrier, going from Athens to Vilnius, two NATO allies, two European union members, through Belarusian airspace. And the Belarusians force the plane down to Minsk because a passenger on the plane is a Belarusian opposition journalist, and they have wanted him in jail. He's been a thorn for the Belarusian government and the president.

This is a shocking breach of international law and will lead to some consequences. But let's first just talk about what happened. There were apparently a few members of intelligence, Belarusian intelligence, a couple Russian citizens as well. We don't know whether it was Belarusian intelligence, KGB types on with Russian passports or whether Russia was involved itself in supporting the Belarusian operation. But while the airplane was still in Belarusian space, the Belarusian intel on the plane got into a fight with the crew, said that there was a bomb threat, an improvised explosive device on the plane. The pilots put out an SOS to the Belarusian government. Belarus scrambled a fighter jet. Said that the closest airport was Minsk. That's not actually true. It was Vilnius at that point. And forced the plane down. And all of the passengers, some American nationals, mostly European nationals, probably pretty petrified through all of this. But this journalist, Belarusian journalist, and his girlfriend who is a Russian citizen, also involved in this Telegram website that they'd set up, very significant, to the extent that there's any opposition left in Belarus. They were two of the more important players. Taken off the plane. In custody, presently. Certainly facing many years in jail. The Belarusian government did a perfunctory check for bombs. Didn't find any, and they obviously weren't going to, and then the Ryanair plane was allowed to proceed.

Again, this is behavior to rogue state. It's criminal state action. Clearly needs to be some level of retaliation against Belarus. It's going to be hard to make that happen. We've seen all sorts of European political condemnation and American condemnation from Secretary of State Tony Blinken, but I don't think much is going to happen. You can imagine that there will be no more overflight for some of the regional planes over Belarus, but for major international carriers, especially that already avoid Ukraine for security concerns, it would be costly. Not clear to me that's going to happen. You could stop the Belarusian flag carrier from flying into European capitals. Maybe they'll do that. There could be additional sanctions, including sectorial sanctions placed against Belarus, but that requires unanimous EU consent. And especially given the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, who is quite supportive of the Belarusians and the Russians, unlikely they would support anything significant or meaningful that would really hurt Belarus.

Meanwhile, the United States, you've seen there's been at least an effort to try to normalize Russia relations, backing away from direct sanctions on Nord Stream 2, a reasonably productive and constructive meeting between Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov from Russia last week in Reykjavik. Much different than what we saw in Anchorage between the Americans and the Chinese, and the Biden administration seen as comparatively soft and risk averse in terms of calling for ceasefire and putting pressure on the sides in Israel, Hamas/Gaza fighting that ended a week ago.

In other words, what I think is most likely to happen is the Belarusian government gets away with this. They have their opposition member in jail, and who knows if they give them a death sentence or not. They continue to run their government with impunity. The Americans and the Europeans are seen as somewhat feckless and incapable in foreign policy, more divisions. And those that are willing to take risks, increasingly get away with them. It is not what you want to see. And certainly, a very disturbing moment in Europe for, I mean, those that were believing that the trouble being caused by the Russians was really only in Ukraine and Belarus itself, not something that could affect the Europeans more directly, especially as you see so many European governments more willing to trade with the Russians, engage in investment and tourism and the rest. This will have a somewhat chilling effect. But in reality, it will be sort of a collective shrug and let's move on.

You'll see some responses in social media, from trolls, either hailing from or supported by the Belarusian regime or the Russian government, Russian state media. Russian state media has been very, very supportive of the Lukashenko illegal action and they won't respond on, on what Lukashenko is doing. They'll instead say, "Well, what about when the Americans shot down the Iranian civilian airliner?" Or a more recently, "What about when the Americans worked with the Europeans to ground President Evo Morales's plane on suspicion that Edward Snowden was being transported by him." And I am certainly not a person who is trying to legitimize historic and illegal actions by the United States or other countries around the world. The United States is the most powerful democracy in the world. It is not the most legitimate. Let's be clear. It doesn't support human rights to the extent that the Canadians do or the Germans do or other countries. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the behavior of Belarus over the weekend. And you have to call that out. And whataboutism being the refuge of some of the most polarized and dishonest people on the web. And so we'll do our best to continue to call those out, while being honest about ourselves as well.

But this is clearly a criminal act by an illegitimate Belarusian regime. It should not be tolerated. It likely mostly will be tolerated if we leave the diplomatic rhetoric away. And that of course, describes so well the GZERO world, that we've been talking about for quite a while now here, and is increasingly a real challenge for the proper functioning of an international system.

So that's it for me and I'll talk to you all real soon.

An aerial view of a forest of trees

From accelerating our net zero timeline to creating digital tools for more sustainable consumer choice, Mastercard is working to build a more sustainable and inclusive digital economy. Watch and learn how we’re uniting in climate action with our network of banking customers, merchants and consumers – and helping to reforest the planet through the Priceless Planet Coalition.

A year of Biden

Joe Biden’s first year as US president included two major historic accomplishments and a series of (often bitter) disappointments that has his party headed toward likely defeat in November’s midterm elections. Biden’s own political future is increasingly uncertain.

More Show less
Hard Numbers: Angry Spanish farmers, South Korea foots Iran’s UN bill, China tests Taiwanese air defense, Turkish journalist jailed

4.7 billion: Spanish farmers protested on Sunday in Madrid against the leftwing coalition government's agricultural and environmental policies, which they claim are depopulating rural areas. No way, says the government, which has set aside $4.7 billion to stop the rural exodus.

More Show less
Two children and a robot. We have to control AI before it controls us, warns former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Listen: Tech companies set the rules for the digital world through algorithms powered by artificial intelligence. But does Big Tech really understand AI? Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt tells Ian Bremmer that we need to control AI before it controls us.

What's troubling about AI, he says, is that it’s still very new, and AI is learning by doing. Schmidt, co-author of “The Age of AI: And Our Human Future,” worries that AI exacerbates problems like anxiety, driving a human addiction cycle that leads to depression.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

COVID has accelerated our embrace of the digital world. The thing is, we don't always know who’s running it.

Instead of governments, Ian Bremmer says, so far a handful of Big Tech companies are writing the rules of digital space — through computer algorithms powered by artificial intelligence.

The problem is that tech companies have set something in motion they don't fully understand, nor control.

More Show less

If omicron makes cases explode in China, the country's leaders will have to choose between weathering short-term or long-term pain.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, predicts that sticking to the zero-COVID approach at all costs will hurt the Chinese and global economy. In his view, learning to live with the virus is the way to go.

More Show less
The Graphic Truth: How do US presidents do in their first year?

Joe Biden's approval rating has taken a big hit during his first year as US president. Biden is now just slightly more popular than his predecessor Donald Trump at the same point in his presidency. While Biden has made a series of policy and political blunders that might be reflected in polling, this is also a sign of the times: US politics are now so polarized that presidential approval has a low ceiling. We compare the approval ratings of the last five US presidents in their first year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow, Russia January 19, 2022.

Iran and Russia heart each other. The presidents of Iran and Russia have little in common personally, but they share many geopolitical interests, including in Afghanistan and Syria. They also have a common resolve in countering "the West.” These issues are all on the agenda as Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi held their first in-person meeting in Moscow. Raisi is a hardline cleric who leads a theocracy with nuclear ambitions. Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is a wily autocrat who enjoys provoking America and Europe, and has ambitions to return to the glory days of the territorially expansive Soviet Union — as seen with the Kremlin's recent provocations on the Ukrainian border. With the Iran nuclear talks on life support and Joe Biden already bracing for Russian troops crossing into Ukraine, Tehran and Moscow now have even more reasons to scheme and cooperate. Indeed, Moscow and Tehran have increasingly been cooperating on energy and security issues (Iran might be buying Russian military technology) as their respective relations with the West deteriorate.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

A year of Biden


Can we control AI before it controls us?

GZERO World Clips

Should China learn to live with COVID?

GZERO World Clips


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal