THE recent hijacking of a Ryanair flight in international airspace was a seismic step in the wrong direction.
I say hijacking, for that’s exactly what it was.
Under the pretext of a bomb threat, and threatened by a Mig fighter, the flight was diverted to Minsk in Belarus.
The reason is shockingly simple.
On board was a young journalist, an outspoken critic of President Lukashenko called Roman Protasevich, who ran a popular, opposition web outlet from neighbouring Poland.
It was the only independent media left for Belarusians, after most were shut down following the disputed election last year, when Lukashenko claimed 80 per cent of the vote.
Along with his girlfriend, Protasevich was removed from the plane before it flew on to Vilnius, with fellow passengers saying he told them he was “facing the death penalty”.
His future looks bleak, despite universal condemnation of his detention.
So, too, does the outlook for international law, on which the world relies for co-operation, trade and safe passage.
Such an outrageous act of piracy would not have happened without Vladimir Putin’s support.
He is a staunch ally.
But, what to do?
The European Union, USA and UK have diverted flights over Belarus, banned Belavia, the national airline, and threatened fresh sanctions.
And no doubt this incident will be high on the agenda at a summit between Mr Putin and US President Joe Biden later this month.
From our perspective, Russia is now our “number one threat,” according to defence secretary Ben Wallace, a view shared by Baltic and former Iron Curtain states in particular.
With so many conflicting interests, world peace has always been finely balanced, placing huge responsibilities on NATO and our membership of it.