Putin’s watching: MP Ellwood says Russian leader is poised to wade in Belarus sprinter row

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Belarus: Expert on whether Putin is ‘backing’ Lukashenko

And Mr Ellwood, chairman of Parliament’s powerful defence committee, said the incident highlighted the fact that it was becoming increasingly difficult to separate sport from politics. Tsimanouskaya’s future is currently uncertain, having refused to board a plane back to her home country, citing concerns over her potential treatment given her criticisms of Belarus’s coaches.

She has since asked for asylum in Poland in a move which is unlikely to impress either Belarus’s controversial President Alexander Lukashenko, or Mr Putin himself, especially as it has now been claimed she will fly to Warsaw on Wednesday.

Mr Ellwood, MP for Bournemouth East, also mentioned the plight of dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, who was arrested after the flight on which he was travelling was forced to land in Belarus.

He said: “We mustn’t forget about what happened on that Ryan flight with a journalist and a critical voice, where a European airline was effectively hijacked, in order to secure the arrests of a individual who’ve been critical of Belarus.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya pictured in 2019 (Image: GETTY)

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin is likely to intervene, suggested Mr Ellwood (Image: GETTY)

“The offer of Poland providing asylum from Poland is actually welcome news but we are far from out of the water.”

Mr Ellwood explained: “Because Belarus will now feel that they are losing face on the international stage, and no doubt will be plotting behind the scenes as to how they can silence her voice.”

As for Mr Putin’s response, Mr Ellwood said: “Belarus and Russia have had their own testy relationship.

“But ultimately, because they have no friends in the West, Belarus is ever more obliged to look to Russia for support.

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Vladimir Putin Alexander Lukashenko

Vladimir Putin and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (Image: GETTY)

We should anticipate Putin commenting, no doubt endorsing Belarus’s acting here to try and control and contain the situation

Tobias Ellwood

“Therefore we should anticipate Putin commenting, no doubt endorsing Belarus’s acting here to try and control and contain the situation.”

Mr Ellwood added: “What is is concerning is how international, apolitical sporting events are becoming politicised.

“The fact that Russia is not able to compete under their own flag is just a reminder, as to how politics spills into the Olympic arena.

“There will be questions as to whether with forethought you could have anticipated members of the Belarus team seeking to defect given the state of their country.

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Poland Japan

An activist wrapped in the Polish flag is seen outside Poland’s Embassy in Tokyo (Image: GETTY)

Roman Protasevich

Roman Protasevich was arrested earlier this year (Image: GETTY)

“But I do believe that there needs to be a recognition of international support for international standards of values that then allows you to participate in the Olympics.

“The Olympics have their own code of conduct to compete fairly and that must go for the countries to participate.

“And the other question is, will this lead to others seeking to to defect?”

Speaking earlier, Aleksandr Opeykin, chairman of the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation said of Tsimanouskaya: “She will fly from Tokyo, a direct flight to Warsaw on August 4, in two days’ time.

Vladimir Putin factfile

Vladimir Putin factfile (Image: Express)

“She has accepted the offer issued by the Polish Foreign Ministry to request international help, she has done that and she has received a Polish visa today.

“We, at the Foundation, helped her to get the ticket to Warsaw.”

In a separate development, the head of a Kyiv-based non-profit organisation that helps Belarusians fleeing persecution has been reported missing after not returning from his morning run, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian police force said on Monday.

Vitaly Shishov, the head of Belarusian House in Ukraine (BDU), was reported missing by his partner, police said.

Tobias Ellwood

Tobias Ellwood, Tory MP for Bournemouth East (Image: GETTY)

A police spokesman said: “We will investigate, until there is information about what happened to him. The statement by his partner has been registered.

“The partner said that he went for a run and did not return, disappeared.”

Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have become safe havens for Belarusians during a violent crackdown by Mr Lukashenko following a disputed election last year.

BDU helps Belarusians find accommodation, jobs and legal advice, according to its website. In a separate statement, the organisation said it was not able to contact Mr Shishov.

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