The story of a highjacking: how a dictator landed

01.06.2021

The incident with the Irish airline Ryanair on the Athens-Vilnius flight surprised communication’s point of view with its unexpected solutions. The rapid reaction of the West, Russia’s role as a guardian and the significant polarization of what happened in Russia.

It can be said that the official propaganda of Russia became the spokesperson for Belarus. This is not unexpected either, because Russia is essentially the only ally of Belarus. Of course, based on their own interests.

Looking at the communication between the various parties about the plane incident, three main narratives can be identified.

The first narrative that comes to mind was “Everyone does it”. Immediately after the incident, Kremlin propaganda began to spread the message that “Russian officials are shocked by the West’s reaction,” citing a lack of Western criticism of previous similar incidents. For example, in 2013. the sudden landing of a Bolivian presidential plane in Vienna, the forcing of a Belarusian plane to land in Ukraine, etc.

The second message was based specifically on Western communication. The Kremlin was disturbed by the West’s rapid and immediate response to the incident. It was played out as if it was a planned action by the West.

The third narrative took place on the second day after the incident when details on the arrested individual began to be revealed: Pratasevitš is a most ardent inciter of mass riots, who fought in the Azov battalion of Ukrainian nationalists and has sensitive information about foreign information operations.

Belarus’s own communication also began to develop only a day after the incident, and to a minimal extent, the sources were the individuals in the military.

It cannot be said that Russian propaganda during those days showed unanimous solidarity with the Belarusian leader. Oddly enough, the most blatant propaganda show in the Russian media, “60 Minutes,” went through several propaganda metamorphoses: the show’s mockery with the idea of ​​Hamas’ allegedly sending a bomb threatening e-mail as well as Lukashenko’s cunning manipulation skills, and non-sincere allegiance to Russia. The presenters have repeatedly shown that Russia is distancing itself from making assessments of the Belarusian leader.

At the end of the week, however, another populist narrative was added to the previous ones: ordinary people will suffer the most from the European flight ban, and the Baltic nations have the most to lose.

The Estonian Russian-language media also paid great attention to what happened. Radio 4 broadcasts about information battles related to the event. ETV + morning broadcasts had live connections with foreign experts. Russian-language Postimees dissected the “failures” of communication related to the event, highlighting the most blatant omissions in Belarusian propaganda: Pratasevitš’ video “good health”, the Hamas alleged “participation story” and the timing of the bomb threat e-mail as well as the alleged refusal by other airports to accept the aircraft, etc.

In conclusion, it can be said that the propagandistic side of the plane incident was once again, as if taken from a textbook. Familiar, tried and tested narratives: “look at what you are doing as well”, “criminals are caught, regardless of the methods used”, “people suffer from counter measures” and “we don’t care about your reaction”.