France cancels Moscow flight as Russian Federation snubs Belarus bypass

Tanya Simon
May 29, 2021

The two airlines were planning to avoid Belarusian airspace in their flights to Moscow.

Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven wealthy nations on Thursday called for the "immediate and unconditional release" of Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian journalist arrested by the regime in Minsk after the plane he was on was diverted.

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European leaders are now accusing authorities in Minsk of essentially hijacking the passenger flight and they agreed this week to cut air links with Belarus and told airliners to avoid the country's airspace.

"It is in the interests of both Austria and Russian Federation that all flights to and via Russian Federation can continue to be carried out without any problems", the Austrian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters Thursday, "We could talk about [sanctions on] the oil production sector".

Council will meet as the consequences of the incident play out in Europe's airspace, with a Barcelona-bound flight from Minsk refused access to French airspace, and Poland banning Belarusian carriers on Wednesday.

U.S. and European Union had already imposed sanctions on Belarus over the violent crackdown on protesters by Lukashenko after a disputed election a year ago.

"Aviation authorities will give the necessary explanations, but these are technical reasons", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

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But he blasted senior United Kingdom officials for failing to grasp the seriousness of the situation. Dominic Cummings leaves the Houses of Parliament in London , Britain, 26 May 2021.

Belarus authorities claimed to have received a bomb threat against the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius carrying the dissident.

At a special meeting on May 27, the 36 Council members, representing ICAO member states, asked member states and other stakeholders to cooperate in a fact-finding investigation into the incident to establish, "whether there had been any breach by an ICAO member state of worldwide aviation law, including the convention on global civil aviation [Chicago Convention] and its annexes".

Once the plane landed, Protasevich - the 26-year-old co-founder of opposition Telegram channel Nexta that coordinated protests last year against Lukashenko - and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega were arrested.

Analysts say Putin's major Belarus objective is to ensure - much as his goal is with Ukraine - that it doesn't end up as a pro-Western enclave on Russia's borders.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko delivers a speech during a meeting with parliamentarians, members of the Constitutional Commission and representatives of public administration bodies, in Minsk, Belarus.

The Belarusian opposition has called for further and stronger measures and more protests.

Belarus's opposition says such videos are routinely recorded by security forces, with participants forced to make statements under duress.

European Union leaders warned on Monday (24 May) they would adopt further "targeted economic sanctions" against the Belarusian authorities to add to the 88 regime figures and seven companies on a blacklist.

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