Nato chief backs Belarus sanctions

Western allies reiterated plans to punish Belarus for a recent air hijack after Nato foreign ministers held video-talks on Tuesday (1 June).

“What we need now is an independent investigation and … to see that the journalist and his companion that were arrested during the landing of the plane, they have to be released,” Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said.

“I also welcome that Nato allies implemented sanctions, and also of course the measures and the sanctions agreed by the European Union. So there’s a clear message, a united message from Nato, on this issue,” he added.

He spoke after a Belarus warplane forced down an EU passenger plane last month to kidnap a journalist.

The EU closed off Belarus airspace in reaction and both Europe and the US are preparing to impose sanctions on Belarus oil and fertiliser firms.

Nato ambassadors already spoke out on the incident last week.

Turkey intervened to water down their joint communiqué, according to diplomats who spoke to the Reuters news agency.

And Belarus trolled Nato over the Reuters report on Tuesday.

“According to the information we have, Turkey really opposed the adoption of such a statement. If so, then we are grateful to Turkey for such a position and approach,” Belarus foreign minister Vladimir Makei said, Turkish media reported.

“We have always been honest with all partners. We also supported Turkey during the [2016] attempted coup, and we have absolutely close, friendly relations with this country,” he said.

But for his part, Stoltenberg brushed this episode.

“The North Atlantic Council [Nato ambassadors] last week agreed a strong statement [on Belarus],” he said on Tuesday.

The Nato HQ in Brussels has also restricted access to Belarusian military and diplomatic personnel, who used to come for seminars on issues such as arms control.

The air incident raised tension in Europe ahead a Nato summit and a US-Russia summit in June.

Russia, on Monday, said it was forming 20 new military units in the country’s west on grounds of countering Nato.

Meanwhile, Nato is conducting large-scale naval war-games in the Atlantic Ocean near Portugal and in the Black Sea in a show of strength.

And the Nato summit statement is likely to paint a picture of an ever-more threatening global environment, Stoltenberg indicated earlier this week.

“We’ve seen more Russian military presence in the High North, in the Barents Sea, and in the Baltic Sea, Kaliningrad, the Black Sea, and also down to the Mediterranean and Middle East,” Stoltenberg said on Monday.

“We are there to prevent conflict and war. But the best way of doing that is to send a clear message to any potential adversary that if one Ally is attacked, the whole Alliance will be there,” he said.

“The rise of China also poses serious challenges,” he added.

“They have the largest navy in the world already, and they are investing heavily in new modern capabilities including hypersonic weapon systems,” he said.

“And then, China is not sharing our values. They don’t believe in democracy. They don’t believe in the freedom of speech and the freedom of media. We see how they oppress minorities like the Uighurs, and crack down on democratic opposition in Hong Kong and also how they coerce neighbours, and how they threaten Taiwan,” Stoltenberg said.

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