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'Teddybear Airdrop' Takes Aim At Belarus Denials

An image from Swedish Studio Total's video chronicling the "Teddybear Airdrop" on July 4.
An image from Swedish Studio Total's video chronicling the "Teddybear Airdrop" on July 4.
A Swedish public-relations firm that claims it dropped 1,000 teddy bears from an airplane that illegally entered Belarusian airspace has released unedited footage of the flight to prove it carried out the free-speech stunt.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry had dismissed as "a hoax" several short, edited video clips previously released by Sweden's Studio Total.

In response to that denial, as well as skepticism expressed by state-controlled media in Belarus, Studio Total provided RFE/RL with nearly 90 minutes of unedited footage documenting the July 4 flight.

Target: Minsk

The video, which is available on YouTube, begins with the plane on the ground preparing for takeoff from an airfield at Pocenai, southeast of Kaunas, Lithuania.

Near the end of the second part of the video, the plane's view of the town of Ivyanets can be seen with its distinctive landmark-church in the town center. Parked on the town square is a white car that Studio Total says was used by the firm's cofounder, Per Cromwell, who says he was waiting there in case the Belarusian military shot down the plane.

RFE/RL consulted cinematographers to confirm that the video was not doctored with digital editing.

RFE/RL's Belarus Service also compared photographs on Google Maps to verify that the plane crossed the Belarusian border from Lithuania at the 48:21 mark of Part 1 of the video (below).

In some of the previously released video footage, Cromwell shows the plane from the ground in Ivyanets as it drops packages of teddy bears. The footage shows a plane of the same make and color with the same registration number as the plane that is seen taking off from Lithuania.

Cromwell says Studio Total originally intended to release the teddy bears over government compounds near Minsk. But he says "uncertainly about remaining fuel and the fact that the plane was contacted" by air-traffic controllers in Minsk led the pilot to turn back toward Lithuania and drop the teddy bears near Ivyanets instead.

Swede Tomas Mazetti, who claims to have piloted the plane, described his actions to RFE/RL in detail.

Mazetti said "Teddybear Airdrop Minsk 2012" was aimed at supporting pro-democracy opposition groups like Charter 97 and "Tell The Truth!" which are fighting for free speech in Belarus.

Full Of Conviction

Pro-democracy activists in Belarus say they were not involved in the stunt.

A newspaper in the Swiss newspaper "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" quotes a pro-democracy activist in Minsk who called the stunt "mob-Schmob" and said "euro-stupids" should leave Belarusians alone and "stop subsidizing the activity of all sorts of clowns from Sweden and Belarus."

Cromwell tells RFE/RL that Studio Total never expected everyone to think the stunt was the right thing to do.

"We welcome a discussion," Cromwell says. "But it's a shame that it had to be in a Swiss newspaper. We sincerely hope that what we did can be openly discussed in Belarusia's state-controlled media soon."

Lithuanian officials have confirmed that their airspace was violated by an unauthorized flight on July 4. But they did not specify whether the incursion was the Studio Total plane.

Cromwell says Studio Total has not yet been contacted by Lithuanian officials about the issue.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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