European Union agrees to ban Belarussian airlines

Clay Curtis
May 25, 2021

"A representative of the Belarusian foreign ministry. stressed the readiness of the Belarusian authorities to act on the issue in a transparent manner and to follow all worldwide rules", said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a press conference following a meeting with his Greek counterpart.

President Biden called the diversion of the plane and arrest of Protasevich "a direct affront to global norms" and said his administration would "develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible".

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, in a call on Monday with exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said the United States had "strong support for the demands of the Belarusian people for democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms", the White House said.

In turn, the commander of the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defence Forces, Igor Golub, stated that the MiG-29 fighter jet was sent to escort the passenger flight after the Ryanair crew had turned the plane towards the Minsk airport, reports

"The reaction should be swift and be severe", Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told journalists ahead of the European Union summit.

Simon Coveney, foreign minister of Ireland, said: "This was effectively aviation piracy, state-sponsored", and claimed that inaction from the European Union would be seen as weakness.

He added that further sanctions were being considered against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's regime and that the country's ambassador in London had been summoned so the United Kingdom could convey its "condemnation of these acts".

His social media feed from exile has been one of the last remaining independent outlets for news about Belarus since a mass crackdown on dissent past year. "All of the left side of his face has powder", the elder Protasevich told Reuters in an interview in Russian late on Monday from Wroclaw, Poland, where he and his wife live.

Some airlines and countries did not wait for guidance on how to respond to the diversion of the Ryanair flight.

The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has suspended all foreign permits held by Belarusian carriers, including state-owned airline Belavia, following the fallout from Sunday's controversial incident which provoked widespread worldwide condemnation.

Still, the options for Western retaliation appear limited.

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The Secretary pointed out that the safety of the flights in Belarusian airspace will be assessed independently from politics or what is going on "on the ground" since air safety is the only point of concern for the US.

Belarus lies on the flight path of routes within Europe and between Europe and Asia, and skirting Belarus would slow flights down and cost airlines money.

In November, Belarus placed Protasevich and Nexta's founder, Stepan Putilo, on a terrorist watch list, charging him with three protest-related crimes that could land him in prison for more than 12 years.

Lukashenko denies election fraud. Since the disputed vote, authorities have rounded up thousands of his opponents, with all major opposition figures now in jail or exile. Interfering with an global flight to kidnap a dissident is not just a violation of human rights but also a breach of worldwide norms and a threat to the safety of passengers.

"I just want to say that my son is simply a hero, simply a hero", Natalia Protasevich said, weeping. "I truly hope that the worldwide community will wake up for him".

To his father, Dzmitry Protasevich, the video comments on Monday seemed to be a result of coercion.

In the Commons, he told MPs: "The Belarusian authorities claim this was in relation to an alleged bomb threat".

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the interception was a "shocking assault on civil aviation" and further sanctions were being considered against the regime, including the suspension of energy pipelines in Belarus. State media said the intervention was ordered personally by Lukashenko.

Belarus authorities then arrested the 26-year-old activist, journalist and prominent Lukashenko critic.

Russia, which has provided security, diplomatic and financial backing to Lukashenko, accused the West of hypocrisy.

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