Belarus”s authoritarian leader has suggested that his counterparts in Russia and the US meet him in Minsk to discuss “all the problems” unfolding between their countries.
Speaking before lawmakers in parliament on Wednesday, President Alexander Lukashenko said US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin should travel to Belarus for “an honest discussion”.
“They should come to us,” he said, referring to Biden and Putin.
“I will meet them both properly. We will sit and discuss all the problems,” he said.
Lukashenko’s comments come amid international outcry after a Ryan air flight was forced to divert to Minsk over the weekend, leading to journalist Roman Protasevich’s arrest.
Authorities have claimed the diversion was prompted by a security alert but many believe it was a ruse to arrest Protasevich, with his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, also arrested from the flight.
Appearing to make light of the White House’s condemnation of the incident, Lukashenko joked that if Biden does visit, he will “listen even to all the mean things that (White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki) will write him to tell me”.
“We will have an honest discussion,” he said.
The Belarus leader also appeared to joke about the flight diversion itself, asserting that Biden “could take a risk – we can easily land a plane, we have a runway”.
The apparent quip was met with applause and laughter from lawmakers.
During his address, the Belarusian president further maintained that his government had only sought to protect people in Sunday’s flight diversion, which the US, European Union and UK have all denounced.
Lukashenko accused his critics of being “ill-wishers” who have “crossed too many red lines”.
“As we predicted, our ill-wishers from outside the country and from inside the country changed their methods of attack on the state,” he said. “They have crossed many red lines and have abandoned common sense and human morals”.
The leader claimed, without evidence, that Protasevich had been planning a “bloody rebellion”, as he also accused the West of waging a “hybrid war” against him.
On Monday, Biden condemned Belarus’s forced diversion of a commercial flight and subsequent arrests a “direct affront to international norms”.
“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms both the diversion of the plane and the subsequent removal and arrest of [Protasevich],” he said.
The US leader said the “outrageous incident” and video posted online of Protosevich, which he said he believed appeared to have been made “under duress” were “shameful assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press”.
“The United States joins countries around the world in calling for his release, as well as for the release of the hundreds of political prisoners who are being unjustly detained by the Lukashenka regime,” he said.
Biden is already expected to meet with Putin in June, with Sunday’s incident expected to be a focus of the summit.