A Ryanair Boeing 737-800 aeroplane takes off. Picture: REUTERS/PAUL HANNA
A Ryanair Boeing 737-800 aeroplane takes off. Picture: REUTERS/PAUL HANNA

The probably terrified passengers of Ryanair Flight FR4978 from Athens to Vilnius, Latvia, were surely grateful that they were not shot down by the Belarusian MiG-29 sent to intercept them and force the plane to make an unplanned stop in Minsk.

After all, the region has a proven history of shooting down civilian airliners, starting with a Finnish-operated Junkers 52 transport aircraft shot down in 1940 by Soviet bombers while en route from Talinn, Estonia, to Helsinki, and ending most recently with the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, a Boeing 777 with 298 people on board, by a missile allegedly fired by Ukrainian separatists near Donetsk, Ukraine, in July 2014.

After a few nervy hours, the Ryanair flight and most of its passengers were allowed to continue to their original destination — all except for dissident Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend.

Protasevich has been a thorn in the side of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who, as he clings to power like a mussel on a rock, has been very busy earning himself the title of Europe’s last dictator.

At least, whoever ordered this outrage did not have the plane blown up in mid-flight, as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin apparently did to Kenyan businessman and former agriculture minister Bruce McKenzie in 1978.

McKenzie and three other men were flying back to Nairobi in a twin-engine Piper Aztec after doing a day’s business in Kampala when the plane exploded shortly before arriving at Wilson Airport.

The Piper was brought down by 10kg of nitroglycerin which may have been concealed in a stuffed lion’s head — a "gift" from Amin — loaded aboard shortly before departure.

While the West works itself up into a froth about Belarus’s act of air piracy, what is it going to do about it? Probably nothing. After all, no lions were harmed in the making of this movie.

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