Putin, Biden, Headed For Showdown Over Belarus Ryanair Diversion

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set for a potential showdown during a scheduled summit next month, as rising tensions between the countries were amplified with Belarus' aggressive move Monday to divert a Ryanair flight in order to offload a dissident journalist.

Biden said Sunday's diversion of the Ryanair plane in order to reportedly offload anti-Putin blogger Raman Pratasevich, 26, was an "affront to peace" just as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov issued a statement calling the move an "absolutely reasonable approach." Belarusian flight controllers told the pilots there was a bomb threat against a passenger jet just as it was crossing into Belarusian airspace and ordered it to land in Minsk, the Associated Press reported. The flight went on to land in Lithuania but Pratasevich was left behind. A military MiG-29 fighter jet intercepted the Ryanair flight, which caused the White House to label the flight diversion a "shocking act."

Putin and Biden are scheduled to hold their first summit in Geneva, Switzerland next month, U.S. officials announced just hours before the Belarus incident.

Russia and the U.S. are at odds on a range of issues including cybersecurity and Russia's war with American-backed Ukraine. Despite the tension, a conciliatory meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Lavrov last week moved both countries closer to officially confirming next month's tentative summit date.

One area of cooperation noted by both countries was to fight the effects of climate change via joint actions.

joe, biden, vladimir, putin, russia, us
U.S. President Joe Biden( L) is seen during remarks on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan in the State Dining room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 15, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen as he and his Turkish counterpart hold a joint press statement following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 5, 2020. Biden said he agrees with the assessment that Putin is a "killer." AFP/Getty Images

The incident comes amid months of increasingly sour U.S.-Russia relations. Moscow officials have angered the White House and U.S. lawmakers from both parties as they continue to defend the imprisonment of anti-Putin journalist Alexei Navalny.

Russian lawmaker Leonid Kalashnikov declared that Belarus had the right to choose "methods that it considers feasible and necessary" needed to combat national security threats. The brazen flight diversion prompted international condemnation as the U.S., the European Union, NATO and the United Nations spoke out against Lukashenko's actions.

"It constitutes a brazen affront to international peace and security by the regime. We demand an immediate international, transparent and credible investigation of this incident," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told the Associated Press in a statement Monday.

"I think this is an absolutely reasonable approach," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a press conference on Monday. "A representative of the Belarusian foreign ministry... stressed the readiness of the Belarusian authorities to act on the issue in a transparent manner and to follow all international rules."

Newsweek reached out to the State Department for any developments in next month's potential Biden-Putin summit in Switzerland.

The graphic below, produced by Statista, spotlights Belarus' position in world rankings on issues such as democracy and transparency, according to major reports.

Statista graphic on Belarus problems
This graphic by Statista highlights the problems that Belarus faces. Statista