Protasevich’s girlfriend only Russian on board Ryanair flight forced to land in Minsk, rubbishing claims security agents involved

Just one Russian citizen left the Ryanair flight that was forcibly landed in Minsk by Belarusian authorities on Sunday, it has been revealed, disproving the widely circulated claims that four intelligence agents disembarked.

On Sunday, a Ryanair jet carrying 126 passengers from Greece was forced to make an emergency stop in Belarus because of a supposed bomb threat. Once it landed at Minsk airport, police came onto the aircraft and arrested activist Roman Protasevich, a passenger on the flight. Later, when no bomb was found, the plane left Belarus to its final destination of Lithuania.

Shortly after the second leg of the flight took off, claims were made that multiple Russian citizens failed to reboard the plane, triggering rumors that state operatives from Moscow were somehow involved in the grounding of the aircraft as a means to arrest Protasevich.

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However, it has since been revealed by Belarusian state TV that just one Russian didn’t make it back on board, presumably Sofia Sapega, the girlfriend of Protasevich. Three Belarusians also remained in Minsk, one of whom was the activist himself. The two other Belarusians were named as Alexandra Stabredova and Sergey Kulakov. One Greek man, Zisis Yason, who was planning to travel to Minsk via Vilnius to see his wife, also decided not to reboard.

The true identities of these five passengers have even been confirmed by the likes of the New York Times and Bellingcat.

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This clarification comes after multiple posts from high-profile Twitter accounts suggested that four Russians were on the plane as a means to force it to land in Minsk. The most popular tweet came from Bill Browder, a hedge fund manager who is best known for pushing governments worldwide to impose sanctions in retaliation for the death of Russian auditor Sergei Magnitsky. His post was retweeted over 4,000 times.

Confusion was further created by Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, who called the plane’s forced landing “state-sponsored hijacking” and suggested that intelligence officers were on board. “It appears the intent of the authorities was to remove a journalist and his traveling companion... we believe there were some KGB agents offloaded at the airport as well,” he said.

There now appears to be no evidence for this claim.

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