Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed support support for beleaguered Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko yesterday in their first meeting since Minsk sparked Western outrage earlier this week by forcing a European airliner to land and arresting a dissident journalist onboard.
State television showed the leaders embracing, and both mocked international condemnation of the incident ahead of talks at Mr. Putin’s residence at the seaside resort of Sochi.
European Union leaders have agreed to impose a new round of sanctions against Belarus and ban its airlines from entering the bloc’s airspace and airports.
The impending sanctions could target financial transactions and the country’s key industries such as oil and potash, a pillar of Belarus’s economy and a major source of taxes and foreign currency, EU officials said this week.
Additionally, the U.S. will suspend an air-services agreement, which makes it easier for both countries’ airlines to fly over each other’s airspace. Now, for example, airlines from both countries will need government approvals before doing so, according to a U.S. official.
Ahead of talks Friday, Lukashenko told Putin he had a briefcase of documents showing the danger the flight posed and why he grounded it. His government said the flight was grounded because it had information that a bomb was on board. No bomb, however, was found during a search of the plane.
Putin went on to compare the situation to the grounding of former Bolivian President Evo Morales ’ plane in 2013 when there was suspicion that the former National Security Agency contractor-turned whistleblower Edward Snowden may have been on board.
He added that at the time there was no condemnation.