VLADIMIR Putin has refused to rule out using a warplane to force a flight from London carrying an opponent to land in Russia.
The plane was diverted just two minutes before it was due to cross into Lithuanian airspace, so that armed guards could arrest the 26-year-old journalist.
He later appeared on television to confess to playing a role in organising mass disturbances last year, at the end of which he began crying and covered his face with his hands.
During a TV interview, Putin was asked at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum: “Russia has its own list of wanted criminals.
“Would Russia land a plane – let’s take London to Thailand, for example – if a wanted person was on board? The plane from London to Thailand flies over Russia.”
Putin thought momentarily and answered: “I won’t say.”
His answer provoked laughter and applause from his audience and the interviewer, Russian presenter Stas Natanzon.
Putin was also quizzed on whether Russia had played any part in the Ryanair incident to which he replied: “Of course not.
“Some Roman Protasevich, I have no clue who he is, and don’t want to know. Let him do whatever he wants, to fight Lukashenko’s regime.”
Later on RT’s Talk Show, Natanzon explained how he interpreted Putin’s answer.
“This is the signal to those residents of London, which reads ‘worry’. Do worry, guys.
“Do fly, but fly with sweaty hands. In an ideal world this is a signal not to steal – and do not to escape to London, but live by the law.
“But if they’ve already done that, then fly with sweaty hands.”
Earlier this year it was reported Putin has drawn up a kill list with six of the targets living in the UK.
He is said to be planning a post-pandemic assassination campaign, saying “no scum can hide from us”, a Russian intelligence officer warned one of the targets.
Lukashenko has been condemned with sanctions imposed by the West for the act of “state piracy” in forcing down the tourist flight from Athens to Vilnius, as it overflew Belarus.
Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, 23, are now held in a jail notorious for torturing political prisoners.
He has annoyed “Europe’s last dictator”, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, for daring to speak out against him.
Outside the pandemic, British Airways and Thai Airways are two airlines that normally fly direct between London and Thailand, overflying Russian airspace.