British Restaurants Are Battling a Staff Crisis, Worsened by Brexit

The problem is not just Britain’s stricter immigration rules. Other workers, in Britain and elsewhere, have left the hospitality industry looking for more stable employment, said Kate Shoesmith, the deputy chief executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, which represents recruitment companies and agencies.

Restaurant and hotel workers, who can’t work from home, have been scarred by unexpected changes in lockdown rules that have pulled them in and out of work at short notice. Despite the success of Britain’s vaccination program, the delta coronavirus variant is threatening to delay the full lifting of social distancing restrictions in England later this month.

Some people “are not confident there won’t be another lockdown,” Ms. Shoesmith said.

Many workers have moved on to less strenuous jobs that don’t require such late nights and long shifts, such as in call centers or in retail or other customer service roles. Adecco, a large recruitment agency, sent out a request to tens of thousands of job seekers to gauge their interest in working in hospitality. Just 1 percent responded.

Ms. Shoesmith said recruiters expected some European Union nationals to eventually return to Britain to work, “but the vast majority won’t; that’s the anticipation.”

To help fill the gap, there is a broad sentiment that the industry must make hospitality an appealing career for Britons, one worth aspiring to, with training and opportunities for promotion. For now, though, this work is often considered just “a job you do in between other things,” as Ms. Shoesmith put it.

UKHospitality has teamed up with work coaches in government job centers. It wants them to promote hospitality as a “career of choice” and think beyond entry-level or front-of-house positions.

Until then, the shortage of workers is a drag on countless businesses.

In more than three decades in the industry, said John Crompton, the director at Hillbrooke Hotels, he had never known a staff shortage like this. The company, which has four “quirky luxury” hotels and inns in eastern and southern England, needs to hire at least 50 people.

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Northern Ireland, Strained by Brexit, Braces for Marching Season

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — The pandemic was hard on David Milliken, who sells drums, flags and pro-British banners from his brightly-colored shop in Sandy Row, a loyalist stronghold in Belfast. But now, he said, “things have started to open up again,” especially since “the unrest is back.”

Two months ago, Sandy Row exploded in flames as masked demonstrators hurled stones and gasoline bombs at the police to protest what they call the “Brexit betrayal.” With the loyalist marching season kicking off next month, there are fears that the eruption of violence was only a warm-up act.

Like others in Sandy Row, Mr. Milliken, 49, said he did not want a return to the Troubles, the bloody 30-year guerrilla war between Catholic nationalists, seeking unification with the Republic of Ireland, and predominantly Protestant loyalists and unionists, who want to stay in the United Kingdom.

iconic military victory over a Catholic king, James II, in 1690.

the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian strife, in part by tamping down Northern Ireland’s identity politics. Brexit has reawakened those passions, and they could flare further next year if, as polls currently suggest, the main Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein, becomes the biggest party in a field of divided, demoralized unionists.

the Northern Ireland Protocol, a post-Brexit legal construct that has left the North awkwardly straddling the trading systems of Britain and the European Union. The protocol grew out of a deal between London and Brussels to avoid resurrecting a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The catch is, it requires checks on goods flowing between the North and the rest of the United Kingdom, which carries both a commercial and psychological cost.

“It has hit the community here like a ton of bricks that this is a separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom,” said David Campbell, chairman of the Loyalist Communities Council, which represents paramilitary groups that some say are stirring up unrest.

Mr. Campbell said that the paramilitaries actually tried to keep people off the streets. But he warned that unless the protocol was either scrapped or radically rewritten, violence would break out again during the marching season.

bitter divorce with the European Union.

Jonathan Powell, a former chief of staff to Tony Blair, the British prime minister at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, acknowledged that, “Biden could be important on the protocol.”

“Britain is rather friendless outside the E.U., so there is a limit to how far they can go against what the administration wants,” Mr. Powell added.

Until now, Mr. Johnson has taken a hard line in negotiations over the protocol. His senior aide, David Frost, says it is up to the European Union to propose remedies to the disruptions of the border checks. If it does not, Britain could abandon the protocol — a move the European Union says would breach the withdrawal agreement, though the bloc’s officials briefly threatened to scrap the protocol themselves in January.

the Democratic Unionists, a Northern Irish party that supported Brexit and has now fallen into disarray because of the fierce blowback from Mr. Johnson’s deal.

The party recently deposed its leader, Arlene Foster, and is squabbling over how to prepare for elections to the Northern Irish Assembly in May 2022. That has opened the door to something once thought inconceivable: that Sinn Fein could emerge as the largest party, with the right to appoint the first minister.

With Sinn Fein’s vestigial links to the paramilitary Irish Republican Army and bedrock commitment to Irish unification, an Assembly led by the party could prove far more destabilizing to Northern Ireland’s delicate power-sharing arrangements than the post-Brexit trading rules, which are difficult to explain, let alone use as a rallying cry.

But Sinn Fein’s leaders say that, with a growing Catholic population and the fallout from Brexit, momentum is on their side. The unionist parties supported Brexit, while they opposed it. They view the campaign against the protocol as a futile effort that only lays bare the costs of leaving the European Union.

“You have a very stark choice,” Michelle O’Neill, the party’s leader and the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, said in an interview. “Do you want to be part of inward-looking Brexit Britain or outward-looking inclusive Ireland?”

Another question is how the authorities will deal with further unrest. In April, the police moved carefully against the rock-throwing crowds, treating them as a local disturbance rather than a national security threat. But if the violence escalates, that could change.

Monica McWilliams, an academic and former politician who was involved in the 1998 peace negotiations, said, “Loyalist threats, or violent actions, against a border down the Irish Sea may no longer be seen as a domestic problem.”

But the greater challenge, she said, is reassuring unionists and loyalists at a time when politics and demographics are moving so clearly against them. While there is little appetite in the Irish Republic for a near-term referendum on unification, Sinn Fein is within striking distance of being in power on both sides of the border — a development that would put unification squarely on the agenda.

In Sandy Row, the sense of a community in retreat was palpable.

Paul McCann, 46, a shopkeeper and lifelong resident, noted how real-estate developers were buying up blocks on the edge of the neighborhood to build hotels and upscale apartments. The city, he said, wants to demolish the Boyne Bridge — a predecessor of which William of Orange is said to have crossed on his way to that fateful battle with James II — to create a transportation hub.

“They’re trying to whitewash our history,” Mr. McCann said. “They’re making our loyalist communities smaller and smaller.”

For Gordon Johnston, a 28-year-old community organizer, it’s a matter of fairness: loyalists accepted the argument that reimposing a hard border between the north and south of Ireland could provoke violence. The same principle should apply to Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

“You can’t have it both ways,” he said. “You either have no borders or you have violence in the streets.”

Anna Joyce contributed reporting from Dublin.

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As Vaccines Turn Pandemic’s Tide, U.S. and Europe Diverge on Path Forward

LONDON — Over Memorial Day weekend, 135,000 people jammed the oval at the Indianapolis 500. Restaurants across the United States were thronged with customers as mask mandates were being discarded.

The formula, which gained the Biden administration’s blessing, was succinct: In essence, if you are fully vaccinated, you can do as you please.

But while the United States appears to be trying to close the curtain on the pandemic, across the ocean, in Britain and the European Union, it is quite a different story.

Despite plunging infection levels and a surging vaccine program, parts of Europe are maintaining limits on gatherings, reimposing curbs on travel and weighing local lockdowns.

Wellcome Sanger Institute, said of Delta. “It just means we have less certainty about what things will look like going forward.”

estimated on Friday that the Delta variant was roughly 60 percent more contagious than the earlier one from Britain. Health officials also warned that cases caused by the Delta variant might lead to a higher risk of hospitalization, though it was too early to say for certain.

The divergent strategies of European nations and the United States also reflect broader differences in how Western governments are thinking about their responsibility to unvaccinated people, scientists said.

in unvaccinated pockets of the United States, where the virus continues to sicken and kill people at elevated rates. The Biden administration is still searching for ways to overcome that vaccine hesitancy.

In Britain, even with more than 90 percent of people over 65 having been fully vaccinated, health officials have resisted as speedy a reopening as they seek to expand inoculation rates in lower-income and nonwhite areas.

“We know the virus predominantly hits poorer communities and people of color hardest,” said James Naismith, a structural biologist and the director of Britain’s Rosalind Franklin Institute, a medical research center. “The U.S. strategy perhaps reflects a more deep-rooted commitment to individualism. The U.K.’s vaccination campaign is highly managed and mirrors more a sense of being our brother’s keeper.”

Britain decided last year to delay second vaccine doses to give more people the partial protection of a single dose. That helped it weather the wintertime surge but also left it potentially exposed to the Delta variant. Health officials said this past week that there was strong evidence of “a reduction in vaccine effectiveness” for the new variant that was most pronounced after a single dose.

Health officials have since changed the guidance to speed up second doses, but many scientists are urging the government not to commit to reopening until the impact of the variant becomes clearer.

76 percent overall have gotten one shot. As a result, some scientists say, upticks in new infections are tolerable so long as the vast majority do not lead to serious illness or death.

“This variant is going to find it hard to spread, because it’s limited to younger people and limited to certain parts of the country,” Professor Spector said.

He said the government needed to help the neighborhoods where it was spreading and, beyond that, encourage people to keep working from home and socially distancing when possible. But delaying the easing of restrictions, he said, was not necessary.

“We need to get used to the idea there will be a few thousand cases every day and that this is a part of our life,” Professor Spector said. “Those cases will be milder.”

Germany, France and Austria all moved quickly to bar most visitors from Britain.

Like Britain, the bloc was chastened by a surge of the variant from Britain this winter that contributed to one of the world’s highest death tolls. Governments were hammered for failing to cement the gains of last summer, when lockdowns were lifted across most of Europe.

In the bloc, 47 percent of the adult population has received a first dose, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, but only 23 percent have full protection.

For those reasons, European leaders have said that vigilance is needed, even though infections have fallen about 80 percent since mid-April.

“This progress is fragile,” Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s director in Europe, warned last month. “We have been here before. Let us not make the same mistakes that were made this time last year.”

Still, now that supply bottlenecks have eased, European officials are confident that 70 percent of adults will be fully vaccinated by July.

The quandary that Europe faces over how to react to the Delta variant may recur as the virus continues to evolve, some scientists said. As long as it remains in wide circulation, even more transmissible variants could emerge, forcing countries to grapple with whether to hunker down yet again or risk the virus spreading through unprotected populations.

Poorer nations are facing far more difficult choices, though. If the same sort of lockdowns that controlled the variant from Britain prove insufficient against this new one, those countries could have to choose between even more draconian and economically damaging shutdowns or even more devastating outbreaks. The Delta variant has already taken a horrifying toll on South Asia.

“Globally, it’s a nightmare, because most of the world is still not vaccinated,” said Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Shreveport. “It raises the stakes.”

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Tasked to Fight Climate Change, a Secretive U.N. Agency Does the Opposite

LONDON — During a contentious meeting over proposed climate regulations last fall, a Saudi diplomat to the obscure but powerful International Maritime Organization switched on his microphone to make an angry complaint: One of his colleagues was revealing the proceedings on Twitter as they happened.

It was a breach of the secrecy at the heart of the I.M.O., a clubby United Nations agency on the banks of the Thames that regulates international shipping and is charged with reducing emissions in an industry that burns an oil so thick it might otherwise be turned into asphalt. Shipping produces as much carbon dioxide as all of America’s coal plants combined.

Internal documents, recordings and dozens of interviews reveal what has gone on for years behind closed doors: The organization has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise, a trend that threatens to undermine the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accord.

One reason for the lack of progress is that the I.M.O. is a regulatory body that is run in concert with the industry it regulates. Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers and others with huge financial stakes in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations. They sometimes even speak on behalf of governments, knowing that public records are sparse, and that even when the organization allows journalists into its meetings, it typically prohibits them from quoting people by name.

Homes are washing away. Much of the nation could become unlivable in the coming decade.

was almost denied a seat. International Registries, which represented the Marshall Islands on the I.M.O., initially refused to yield to the foreign minister, Mr. Woodroofe recalled.

United Nations climate meetings, countries are typically represented by senior politicians and delegations of government officials. At the maritime organization’s environmental committee, however, one in four delegates comes from industry, according to separate analyses by The New York Times and the nonprofit group Influence Map.

Representatives of the Brazilian mining company Vale, one of the industry’s heaviest carbon polluters and a major sea-based exporter, sit as government advisers. So does the French oil giant Total, along with many shipowner associations. These arrangements allow companies to influence policy and speak on behalf of governments.

Connections can be hard to spot. Luiz Gylvan Meira Filho sat on the Brazilian delegation in 2017 and 2018 as a University of Sao Paulo scientist. But he also worked at a Vale-funded research organization and, during his second year, was a paid Vale consultant. In an interview, he described his role as mutually beneficial: Brazilian officials relied on his expertise, and Vale covered his costs.

“Sometimes you cannot tell the difference. Is this actually the position of a nation or the position of the industry?” said David Paul, a Marshallese senator who attended an I.M.O. meeting in 2018.

Hundreds of other industry representatives are accredited observers and can speak at meetings. Their numbers far exceed those of the approved environmental groups. The agency rejected an accreditation request by the Environmental Defense Fund in 2018.

Industry officials and the maritime organization say such arrangements give a voice to the experts. “If you don’t involve the people who are actually going to have to deliver, then you’re going to get a poor outcome,” said Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping.

openly opposed strict emissions regulation as a hindrance to economic growth. And an informal bloc of countries and industry groups helped drag out the goal-setting process for three years.

Documents show that China, Brazil and India, in particular, threw up repeated roadblocks: In 2015, it was too soon to consider a strategy. In 2016, it was premature to discuss setting targets. In 2017, they lacked the data to discuss long-term goals.

a Cook Islands diplomat.

The I.M.O. almost never puts environmental policies to a vote, favoring instead an informal consensus-building. That effectively gives vocal opponents blocking power, and even some of the agency’s defenders acknowledge that it favors minimally acceptable steps over decisive action.

So, when delegates finally set goals in 2018, Mr. de Brum’s ambition had been whittled away.

The Marshall Islands suggested a target of zero emissions “by the second half of the century” — meaning by 2050. Industry representatives offered a slightly different goal: Decarbonization should occur “within” the second half of the century, a one-word difference that amounted to a 50-year extension.

Soon, though, the delegates agreed, without a vote, to eliminate zero-emissions targets entirely.

What remained were two key goals:

First, the industry would try to improve fuel efficiency by at least 40 percent. This was largely a mirage. The target was set so low that, by some calculations, it was reached nearly the moment it was announced.

Second, the agency aimed to cut emissions at least in half by 2050. But even this watered-down goal is proving unreachable. The agency’s own data say emissions may rise by 30 percent.

When delegates met last October — five years after Mr. de Brum’s speech — the organization had not taken any action. Proposals like speed limits had been debated and rejected.

What remained was what several delegates called the “refrigerator rating” — a score that, like those on American appliances, identified the clean and dirty ships.

European delegates insisted that, for the system to work, low-scoring ships must eventually be prohibited from sailing.

China and its allies wanted no such consequence.

So Sveinung Oftedal of Norway, the group’s chairman, told France and China to meet separately and compromise.

Delegates worked across time zones, meeting over teleconferences because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Shipping industry officials said they weighed in through the night.

The Marshallese were locked out.

“We’re always being told ‘We hear you,’” Mr. Ishoda said. “But when it comes to the details of the conversation, we’re told ‘We don’t need you to contribute.’”

Ultimately, France ceded to nearly all of China’s requests, records show. The dirtiest ships would not be grounded. Shipowners would file plans saying they intended to improve, would not be required to actually improve.

German delegates were so upset that they threatened to oppose the deal, likely triggering a cascade of defections, according to three people involved in the talks. But European Union officials rallied countries behind the compromise, arguing that Europe could not be seen as standing in the way of even limited progress.

“At I.M.O., that is as always the choice,” said Damien Chevallier, the French negotiator. “We have the choice to have nothing, or just to have a first step.”

All of this happened in secret. The I.M.O.’s summary of the meeting called it a “major step forward.” Natasha Brown, a spokeswoman, said it would empower customers and advocacy groups. “We know from consumer goods that the rating system works,” she said.

But the regulation includes another caveat: The I.M.O. will not publish the scores, letting shipping companies decide whether to say how dirty their ships are.

Ms. Kabua, the Marshallese minister, is under no illusions that reclaiming the diplomatic seat will lead to a climate breakthrough.

But if it works, she said, it might inspire other countries with private registries to do the same. Countries could speak for themselves rather than through a corporate filter.

Regardless of the outcome, the political winds are shifting. The European Union is moving to include shipping in its emissions-trading system. The United States, after years of being minor players at the agency, is re-engaging under President Biden and recently suggested it may tackle shipping emissions itself.

Both would be huge blows to the I.M.O., which has long insisted that it alone regulate shipping.

Suddenly, industry officials say they are eager to consider things like fuel taxes or carbon.

“There’s much more of a sense of momentum and crisis,” said Mr. Platten, the industry representative. “You can argue about, ‘Are we late to it,’ and all the rest. But it is palpable.”

Behind closed doors, though, resistance remains. At a climate meeting last winter, recordings show that the mere suggestion that shipping should become sustainable sparked an angry response.

“Such statements show a lack of respect for the industry,” said Kostas G. Gkonis, the director of the trade group Intercargo.

And just last week, delegates met in secret to debate what should constitute a passing grade under the new rating system. Under pressure from China, Brazil and others, the delegates set the bar so low that emissions can continue to rise — at roughly the same pace as if there had been no regulation at all.

Delegates agreed to revisit the issue in five years.

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Europe’s Dilemma: Take In ISIS Families, or Leave Them in Syria?

When Belgium said in March that it would repatriate some women who had joined the Islamic State, along with their children, Jessie Van Eetvelde welcomed the decision with relief — even though she knows it will likely mean time in prison.

She and her two children have been living for at least two years in detention camps in Syria. Her dream, she says, is to have her children, whose father fought for the Islamic State, attend school in Belgium. For that, she is ready to pay the price of having joined the militant group in 2014, if Belgium will take her back.

“Maybe they realized that those who want to go back are sorry and want a second chance,” Ms. Van Eetvelde, 43, said recently in a WhatsApp voice message.

Many European countries have balked at allowing the return of people linked to ISIS, yet some, like Belgium and Finland, are now heeding the advice of security experts and rights groups who say that repatriations are the safest option.

lost its last territorial foothold in Syria, more than 200 women from 11 European countries and their 650 children are living in two Syrian camps, Al Hol and Roj, according to figures compiled by Thomas Renard, a researcher at the Egmont Institute, a Brussels-based think tank.

Although the Europeans represent a small fraction of the 60,000 people being held in the camps, who are mostly Iraqis and Syrians, European governments are facing increasing pressure to bring the adults back to face trial amid an argument that the countries’ inaction violates their commitment to human rights.

Security experts, rights groups and lawyers of those who went to ISIS territories acknowledge that European governments face legitimate security concerns, along with political dynamics in countries fearful of terrorist attacks. But a growing number of government and intelligence officials say that leaving European citizens in Syria comes with greater risks, including that they could join terrorist groups that target Europe.

Kazakhstan and Turkey have repatriated many of their own citizens to prosecute them and, in some cases, reintegrate them into society.

The Kurdish leadership in the region that oversees the camps has not prosecuted the women, whose roles under ISIS’s rule often remain unclear. And because the administration is not internationally recognized, any prosecutions would still not get them out of their legal limbo.

Most European countries say that they have no legal obligation to help their citizens in the camps and that adults who joined ISIS should be prosecuted in Iraq and Syria.

Save the Children.

Reprieve says that many women in the camps were trafficked, raped and forced into marriage and domestic servitude.

Yet in several European countries, repatriations remain out of the question, said a French intelligence official who requested anonymity to discuss the topic. Part of the hesitancy, security analysts say, is that repatriated women could receive light or no prison sentences.

Britain has stripped British citizenship from nearly 20 women who joined ISIS, in some cases taking them to court to prevent their return. France has turned down numerous calls for repatriation, even as some of the women staged a monthlong hunger strike. The Netherlands and Sweden said that they might take in children, but without their mothers.

France reels from years of terrorist attacks, the government has opposed calls to repatriate people who left to wage jihad.

Although France has taken in 35 children from the camps on a case-by-case basis, 100 women with French citizenship and their 200 children remain mostly in the Roj camp, according to Jean-Charles Brisard, the director of the Paris-based Center for the Analysis of Terrorism.

France was due to repatriate at least 160 of them in early 2019, according to intelligence documents brought to light by the newspaper Libération that spring and seen by The Times this year. But the situation in the camps became too volatile, the French intelligence official said, and the plan was abandoned.

asked the International Criminal Court to consider whether the country’s policy makes President Emmanuel Macron complicit in war crimes.

A French woman who went on hunger strike in the Roj camp said that there was no running water and that many people there had respiratory problems. (The Times is not publishing her name, because she says she has received death threats from ISIS supporters who oppose their return to France.) “It’s very difficult to see doctors and dentists — there are no medicines,” she said, adding that the Frenchwomen wanted to return “to be tried, to be jailed.”

Jussi Tanner, a diplomat from Finland who is in charge of his country’s repatriations, said the women and children’s return was not a matter of “if, but of when and how.”

“Repatriating them as quickly as we can is better from a security point of view rather than pretending that the problem goes away when we look away,” he said. “You can leave them there, but they will return anyway.”

Claire Moses, Christopher F. Schuetze and Jasmina Nielsen contributed reporting.

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Boris Johnson’s Former Top Aide Tells of Inept, Chaotic Covid Policy

LONDON — He suggested that a doctor inject him with the coronavirus live on television to play down the dangers to a nervous public. He modeled himself after the small-town mayor in the movie “Jaws,” who ignored warnings to close the beaches even though there was a marauding shark offshore. As the pandemic closed in on Britain, he was distracted by an unflattering story about his fiancée and her dog.

That was the portrait of Prime Minister Boris Johnson painted by his disaffected former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, in parliamentary testimony on Wednesday. While Mr. Johnson flatly rejected several of the assertions in his own appearance in Parliament on Wednesday, they nevertheless landed with a thud in a country still struggling to understand how the early days of the pandemic were botched so badly.

“When the public needed us most, the government failed,” said Mr. Cummings, the political strategist who masterminded Britain’s campaign to leave the European Union and engineered Mr. Johnson’s rise to power before falling out bitterly with his boss and emerging as a self-styled whistle-blower.

a much-criticized road trip he made with his family that breached lockdown rules, saying he had fled London because of threats against his family. And he apologized for his failure to act sooner when he realized that Britain’s delay in imposing a lockdown last March was courting disaster.

“It’s true that I hit the panic button and said we’ve got to ditch the official plan,” Mr. Cummings said. “I think it’s a disaster that I acted too late. The fundamental reason was that I was really frightened of acting.”

testing 100,000 people a day. Mr. Cummings said he told Mr. Johnson to dismiss Mr. Hancock, as did the then-cabinet secretary, Mark Sedwill.

move patients from hospitals to nursing homes without testing them.

“Hancock told us that people were going to be tested before they went back to care homes, what the hell happened?” he said. “Quite the opposite of putting a shield round them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes.”

A spokesman for Downing Street said on Wednesday that Mr. Johnson did not believe Mr. Hancock had lied to him.

reported by the BBC but denied by Downing Street.

Asked if Mr. Johnson was the right person to guide the country through the pandemic, Mr. Cummings responded simply: “No.”

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Belarus Plane Crisis Tightens Lukashenko’s Awkward Embrace of Putin

MOSCOW — He may be the Kremlin’s closest ally, but his loyalty remains in doubt.

When Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the eccentric and brutal leader of Belarus, forced down a European passenger jet on Sunday to arrest a dissident, he ushered in a new and even more brittle phase in one of the post-Soviet region’s most convoluted and consequential relationships: the one between Mr. Lukashenko and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The two are increasingly leaning on each other in the face of conflict with the West, but they have sharply diverging interests. Mr. Lukashenko, who has ruled for 26 years, relies on his iron grip on his country to assure his survival. Mr. Putin wants to expand Russian influence in Belarus, undermining Mr. Lukashenko’s authority in the process.

Now, with a summit meeting with President Biden looming in June, Mr. Putin faces a choice over how much political capital to expend to continue supporting Mr. Lukashenko, whose commandeering of the Ryanair plane has complicated the Kremlin’s efforts to smooth relations with the West. Russian officials and pro-Kremlin news outlets have taken Mr. Lukashenko’s side in the furor, but Mr. Lukashenko’s leading Belarusian opponents believe that the Kremlin’s support is only skin deep.

“In the Russian Foreign Ministry, in the Kremlin, I think that people can’t stand Lukashenko,” Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to the exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, said in a telephone interview. “But at the same time, since there’s not anyone more pro-Russian, they prefer to keep Lukashenko for now.”

Roman Protasevich — who had been on a Belarusian list of “terrorists” because he co-founded a social-media outlet that galvanized and organized last year’s protests.

On Monday, the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told journalists in his regular daily briefing that he could not comment on the Ryanair incident. “It is up to the international authorities to assess the case,” he said.

It took another 24 hours for the Kremlin to formulate its final message; Belarus’s actions were “in line with international regulations,” Mr. Peskov said on Tuesday.

as directed by E.U. leaders who voiced outrage over what they called Mr. Lukashenko’s “hijacking.” But speaking in a marble-paneled hall of the Minsk House of Government, Mr. Lukashenko was defiant, claiming that a bomb threat against the plane had arrived from Switzerland.

“Don’t you cast blame on me!” Mr. Lukashenko thundered, jabbing his finger into the air. “I acted legally defending my people, and it will also be thus in the future.”

In Moscow, Mr. Lukashenko is widely seen as a frustrating and fickle partner. Despite his reliance on the Kremlin, for instance, he still has not recognized as valid the annexation of Crimea in 2014, which many Russians see as Mr. Putin’s crowning foreign policy achievement.

“It’s a pretty serious mistake to think that Moscow can snap its fingers to solve its problems in Minsk,” said Pavel Slunkin, a former Belarusian diplomat who resigned last year in protest against Mr. Lukashenko’s policies. “Lukashenko will try to avoid further dependence on Moscow in every possible way.”

Andrei Kortunov, the director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a Moscow research institute co-founded by the Russian Foreign Ministry, likened Mr. Lukashenko to the Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad, another difficult Kremlin ally.

After Russia propped up Mr. Lukashenko in his hour of need last summer, long-sought benefits were expected to accrue to the Kremlin. Mr. Lukashenko could have signed an agreement for a Russian military base in Belarus or allowed Russian investment into major Belarusian enterprises on favorable terms. But despite three face-to-face meetings between Mr. Lukashenko and Mr. Putin since last September — a fourth is expected in the coming days — none of that materialized.

“You’d think: The regime was saved, and he should have paid,” Mr. Kortunov said of Mr. Lukashenko. “But we’re not seeing that.”

Continuing to prop up Mr. Lukashenko could be costly for Mr. Putin, Mr. Kortunov warned. As Mr. Putin prepares for a summit meeting with President Biden scheduled to take place in Geneva on June 16, Russian officials have telegraphed that they want to lower tensions with the United States. One factor is domestic politics: Amid protests and discontent over economic stagnation, the Kremlin faces a public disapproving of foreign adventurism.

“The social contract of, ‘We won’t give you sausage, but we’ll make Russia a great power’ — this no longer works,” Mr. Kortunov said, describing Mr. Putin’s approach. “He understands that he needs to change the agenda. He won’t win any more with foreign policy.”

Mr. Lukashenko’s opponents are now pushing for the United States and Europe to enact more sanctions against Belarus that would further isolate him and perhaps provoke a split in the elite. Ms. Tikhanovskaya, the opposition leader, spent nearly 40 minutes on the phone earlier this week with Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, her aide, Mr. Viacorka, said.

“When the Belarusian issue is discussed in the context of the Russian one, it becomes impossible to solve,” Mr. Viacorka said.

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