NATO has called the incident which led to the detention of journalist Roman Protasevich a “state-sponsored hijacking”.
Jens Stoltenberg told Sky News: “We know the very close relationship between Russia and Belarus and therefore it’s hard to believe that the regime in Minsk could do something like this without any kind of coordination with Russia.”
He made the comments on board Britain’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth during NATO‘s largest exercise this year.
NATO is demanding the release of Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapiega, who are being detained after the flight they were travelling on was diverted by a Belarusian military plane.
Mr Stoltenberg’s comments may increase tensions on Russia’s borders as thousands of NATO troops exercise in Romania as part of Operation Steadfast Defender.
Meanwhile, navies are drilling in the Black Sea and Atlantic in a 30-nation exercise involving thousands of personnel.
The aim is to test NATO’s ability to deter threats and defend itself. But the exercise is overshadowed by Belarus’ – and likely Russia’s – challenge to what the alliance stands for.
NATO has called the incident a “state-sponsored hijacking”.
There won’t be a military response. Instead, there will be sanctions by individual member states and calls for an urgent independent investigation.
But NATO jets will continue monitoring Russia and its allies.
As the Queen Elizabeth Strike Group heads east, British and American jets will be patrolling the Black Sea to keep an eye on Russian activity.
Commodore Steve Moorhouse told Sky News: “We’ll always be keeping an eye on it. Horizon scanning is a daily activity for us here – just understanding what the threats are.
“And we have to be on our guard. I’ve said to a number of people here today [that] miscalculation is something we have to be really wary of.”
Britain’s First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radikin told Sky News that Russia needs watching closely.
“Russia is looking to demonstrate what it might be able to do to us. Russia is trying to demonstrate where it may be able to threaten NATO interests and values,” he said.
It’s the Queen Elizabeth’s first operational deployment.
It will be a challenging debut for her and her crew as they and their nine-vessel strike group embark on a seven-month voyage.