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Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. Photo: SIARHEI LESKIEC/AFP via Getty Images

Belarus strongman Aleksandr Lukashenko, who diverted a passenger airplane carrying a journalist and government dissident on board this week, defended his actions Wednesday as necessary to quell a bomb threat, AP reports.

Why it matters: The incident, which EU leaders have called a "hijacking," has drawn international condemnation and further isolated Lukashenko, who is often referred to as "Europe's last dictator."

Driving the news: EU nations have banned Belarusian airlines, told European airlines not to fly over the country, and promised more economic sanctions. Lukashenko described the retaliation as a “hybrid war” to “strangle” Belarus.

  • “Our ill-wishers outside and inside the country have changed their methods of attacking the state,” Lukashenko said Wednesday. “That’s why they switched from organizing riots to trying to strangle us.”
  • “I acted in a lawful way, protecting people in line with international rules,” Lukashenko claimed.

Catch up quick: The plane was in Belarusian airspace headed to Lithuania when pilots were told to land in Minsk — and escorted there by a Belarusian fighter jet — because of “a potential security threat on board," according a statement from Ryanair.

  • Journalist Raman Protasevich, a prominent opposition figure living in exile, reportedly told other passengers he was facing the death penalty before he was arrested during the stop. No bomb was found on board.
  • Lukashenko said it was an “absolute lie” that the fighter jet forced the Ryanair plane to land.
  • The CEO of Ryanair described the incident as a "state-sponsored hijacking."

Go deeper: Biden says U.S. to coordinate with EU on Belarus response

Go deeper

Updated May 24, 2021 - World

Global outcry as Belarus accused of "hijacking" plane to detain activist

Raman Pratasevich. Photo: Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

European Union leaders were due to meet Monday to discuss possible sanctions against Belarus after a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania carrying an opposition activist was diverted to Minsk over a supposed bomb threat.

Why it matters: Raman Pratasevich, a journalist and opposition leader wanted by the Belarusian government, was detained at the Minsk airport once the plane landed. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted, "Those responsible for the Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned."

May 25, 2021 - World

Biden: U.S. will coordinate with the EU on Belarus response

Raman Pratasevich. Photo: Erin Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden said in a statement Monday his administration is developing "appropriate options" in coordination with the EU to hold Belarus accountable following the country's diversion of a flight to arrest an opposition leader.

Driving the news: Earlier Monday, the European Council called for an independent investigation into the episode, the submission of sanctions proposals and advised EU-based carriers to avoid and airspace.

European Council condemns forced plane landing by Belarus

Raman Pratasevich. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The European Council adopted a series of conclusions Monday that "strongly condemned" Belarus' diversion of a commercial plane and subsequent arrest of an opposition leader and outlined a series of next steps.

State of play: Among their conclusions, the Council called for the immediate release of Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega, and for an independent investigation into the episode. It also called for the submission of sanctions proposals and advised EU-based airlines not to fly over Belarus.