THE brazen abduction of exiled Belarussian activist Raman Pratasevich from a Ryanair flight forced to divert to Minsk this week was a shocking and saddening event for those who support freedom of conscience and the rule of law everywhere.

While I am no legal expert, and will happily leave issues relating to the bravery of those seeking to ensure that Belarus can properly join the European family of democracies to those who are better informed on the subject, we cannot forget that there are a range of issues that this strange case raises which demonstrate the need for those of us preparing for the day Scotland becomes an independent state to take the security of our Baltic neighbours seriously.

The response from the Lithuanian president and other prominent politicians demonstrated the outrage felt on their behalf for the dissident – and his girlfriend – who had sought and been offered refuge in their country after their security in Belarus was endangered by the pro-democracy campaign they had supported and led.

Indeed, the solidarity shown by Lithuania towards Belarusians – with whom they share innumerable historical and cultural ties – seeking to challenge the results of the rigged 2020 presidential election has not only been to that country’s great credit, but also demonstrated the responsibility it felt it could now show towards other former Soviet states in transitioning towards democracy.

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That a state of Lithuania’s size was able to act with such confidence, despite the strong hostility from its much larger neighbours, is testament to the security it is afforded by membership of the European Union and Nato – not only security in a military sense but also in the strengthening of its own institutions and economy through breathing the oxygen of that co-operation and solidarity which is found in democracy.

For Scotland, the fact that such examples from recent history exist demonstrates that seceding from a much larger, economically dominant neighbour can be a profoundly revitalising experience are vital in constructing our own case – I’m not sure many economists would have recommended that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia declare independence from the state that was also their largest market either.

As supporters of independence, we in the SNP also believe in the right of sovereign nations to defend hard-won self-determination and sympathise with the Baltics, whose hard-won independence in the 1990s has continued to be challenged by the neighbour they seceded from ever since.

Lithuania and Belarus should be able to determine their own futures as independent, sovereign states – the difference now in living standards and stability of both demonstrates what happens when a state like Lithuania is able to make their own choices, free from the “spheres of influence” of larger powers.

Lithuanians and Belarusians have as much right as we do to live in a safe and open neighbourhood, with free movement of people to live, work and study. Raman Pratasevich thought he was exercising that freedom given to him as a resident of an EU state, and the idea that there should be any question of that should have a chilling effect on us all.

Political exile has been a vital option of last resort for activists throughout history and it is important that we protect those who have made that difficult decision to leave their families and lives behind for an uncertain existence abroad. Authoritarian states have recently felt emboldened to reach out to strike against their internal enemies in exile – and whether these exiles be Belarusians in

Vilnius, Uighurs in Istanbul, Iranians in Copenhagen, Russians in Salisbury or Saudis in Montreal, we need to ensure that dissidents are welcome and safe in our societies.

After a worryingly quiet initial response, it would seem that the EU is taking this seriously now too. States previously reluctant to take action against Belarusian brutality have been swayed by the brazenness of these actions and those who take an interest in the region now hope that it will spur further actions on issues of national security importance to Eastern European states. This includes taking steps to block the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that seeks to ship gas from Russia to Germany while avoiding going through the Baltics, Ukraine or Poland, all of which feel threatened by Russian ambitions in their “sphere of influence”.

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However, this remains a profoundly worrying precedent. Even with strong deterrent measures put in place against a state engaging in this type of behaviour, there will be many who now think twice about how safe they are travelling even between “safe” countries. Most flights from Europe to Asia for example pass over Russian airspace and most flights to Dubai or the Gulf States pass over Iran.

So, as family and friends of Raman Pratasevich become increasingly worried for his safety in Belarusian state detention it is important that we remember the broader implications of this heinous act.

SNP politicians should always seek to defend the rights of smaller states against aggression, and infringements on their sovereignty, and I am glad to see from the reactions of my frontbench colleagues that this time is no different – because in this case, Raman Pratasevich’s interest, Lithuania’s interest and Scotland’s interest is the same.