U.S. and Europe consider sanctions after Belarus circumvents planes and arrests journalists


U.S. and European officials said authorities were adjusting sanctions against Belarus after arresting prominent opposition journalists from a plane directed to the country on a bomb alert on Monday.

A flight from Ireland’s low-cost carrier Ryanair ordered Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to escort a fighter and land in Minsk on the way from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania.

Raman Pratasevich, co-founder of the Nexta channel of the Telegram messaging app, is faced with charges of being arrested after the plane landed and potentially sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

Belarusian police detain journalist Raman Platasevic
Belarusian police detained journalist Ramanplatasevic (C) in Minsk, Belarus on March 26, 2017. (Sergei Grits / AP photo)

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary described the incident as the first European airline to be a “state-sponsored hijacking.”

Talking to Irish radio station Newstalk, O’Leary said, “Russia’s intention is [sic] Authorities were to take the journalist and his travel companions away, “he believes that some” KGB agents “were also taken off the plane, and that the last trip to Minsk-Vilnius seems to be empty. Echoed the passengers who told Reuters when they took off from Athens.

O’Leary said Ryanair will make a detailed report with NATO and EU authorities on Tuesday asking if Ryanair should fly around Belarus.

A Lithuanian Prime Minister spokesman said late Monday that the latest information available from Ryanair suggests that 126 passengers left the Greek capital and 121 arrived in Lithuania. It was.

Franak Viačorka, a senior adviser to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsukhanouskaya, called for sanctions and a no-fly zone in Belarus.

Viačorka wrote twitter: “We are working on a terrorist regime. What to do now: — Belarus no-fly zone — the broadest sanctions on perpetrators — reducing Lukaschenka funding: sanctions clones, oil and potash sector , Arms Trading — Discuss Belarus at UNSC and G7 — Increase Support for Media and Civil Society. ”

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsukhanouskaya spoke at a press conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 23, 2021. (MindaugasKulbis / AP Photo)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and British Secretary of State Dominic Raab condemned Belarus’ actions and demanded immediate release of Platasevic.

“This shocking act by the Lukaschenka administration has endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens,” Blinken said. statement..

“The involvement of Belarusian security agencies and the first report suggesting the use of Belarusian military aircraft to escort planes are deeply concerned. [a] A complete investigation, “he said.

Blinken said the United States is coordinating with Lithuanian and Greek officials and partners such as the European Union.

Lukashenko’s actions would have “serious consequences,” Rab said.

“The UK is wary of the arrest of @ nexta_tv journalist Roman Protasevich and reports of the situation in which his flight was forced to land in Minsk. We are coordinating with our allies. This quirky by Lukashenko. Action has serious implications, “Rab wrote: Tweet..

Separately statement On Monday, Rab also called for the immediate release of other political prisoners detained in Belarus, saying “Lukashenko should be held accountable.”

“The UK is cooperating with its allies on a coordinated response, including further sanctions,” he said.

“The UK also wants ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organisation] A council meeting urgently to consider ignoring the administration of international regulations that protect civil aviation. “

G7 Foreign Minister Antony Blinken Dominic Raab
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (L) will meet with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a bilateral meeting at Carlton Gardens in London on May 3, 2021. (Daily Express via Jonathan Backmaster / PA)

EU leaders have also signaled a “strong” reaction.

The EU’s foreign policy director, Josep Borrell, said the case was “another blatant attempt by Belarusian authorities to silence the voices of all opposition parties.”

EU Commission President Ursula von der Reyen previously said it was a “hijack”, and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda called it a “state-supporting terrorist act.”

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin told RTE, a national broadcaster, that the diversion was “certainly a state-sponsored coercion.”

“It reflects the growing authoritarianism around the world,” Martin said. “These authoritarians are making this kind of deliberate decision …. We have to respond very strongly. [sic] in addition. “

Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonite said Belarus committed “citizens in the European Union and other countries, Belarusian civil society seeking asylum from the persecution of the administration, and state terrorist acts aimed at the security of international civil aviation.” Said.

Simonite said he would work with an international partner in Lithuania to close Belarus’ airspace to international flights.

Politicians demanded that Belarus be suspended from international organizations as Western leaders are working on a coordinated response.

so Joint letter On Sunday, the chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee of the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, the United States, and neighboring countries of Belarus, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Estonia, called for the suspension of Belarus from ICAO until the organization implemented it. It was. Inquiries and bans on all flights over Belarus, including round-trip flights to Belarus.

The chair of the Foreign Commission also called on NATO and EU countries to sanction the Belarusian regime and suspend its ability to use Interpol and other international organizations.

Meanwhile, Latvian airline airBaltic Avoid Belarusian airspace, And online flight trackers have shown that Hungarian airline Wizz Air’s aircraft have also evaded Belarusian airspace.

The U.S. and EU have already become Belarusian top executives in months of protests triggered by Lukashenko’s re-election for his sixth presidential term in an August vote rejected by opposition as fraudulent. Imposing sanctions. Since then, more than 34,000 people have been arrested in Belarus and thousands have been brutally beaten.

Belarus’ Foreign Ministry accused it of saying a “warlike” EU statement on Monday, claiming that state officials acted “fully in full compliance with international rules.”

Reuters, PA and Associated Press contributed to this report.