Friday, 10 August 2012
Surprise Battalion Parachute Drop on Belarus
On the 4th of July 2012, a Swedish public relations firm dropped 879 toy teddy-bears by parachute on the town of Ivenets near Minsk in Belarus. This was a pro-democracy protest against Europe’s last dictatorship, with each teddy-bear carrying a suitable slogan.
Belarus is former Soviet state that has been ruled by President Alexander Lukashenko since democratic elections in 1994. Since the first free election, the state has become progressively more autocratic and has seen a clampdown on press freedom. The European Union has an asset free and travel restrictions on 200 Belarus officials for alleged human right abuses. If any of these people travel in the rest of Europe, they will be detained.
The incident has wider interest than merely highlighting the excesses of one ex-soviet regime.
Belarus is part of the air defence network of Russia and although the light aircraft managed to enter Belarus airspace from Sweden, Andrei Savinykh, the spokesman for Belarus' Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the intruded was detected ‘but the air defence did nothing. They didn’t consider the aircraft as a military threat because it was a small aircraft and usually the air defence system is focusing on high-speed heavy crafts.’
This incident raises questions about the effectiveness of the Russian air defence umbrella.
In the days of potential air attack by suicide terrorists, the wider question is how to react to such suspicious civilian aircraft? There are dangers to over-reaction; in September 1983, the Soviets shot down a civilian Korean Airline Flight 007 over the Sea of Japan by a Su-15. America shot down civilian flight Iran air flight 655 in July 1988 over the straits of Hormuz.
Belarus is quite clear about their reaction to a further incident. Their spokesman said any further unauthorised aircraft would be treated as a threat. Belarus air space will not be a good place to stray from one’s registered flight plan.