MINSK, June 5. /TASS/. Sanctions against Belavia should be viewed as an attempt to strangle the Belarusian air carrier and to take over the air travel market, Artem Sikorsky, head of the Belarusian Transport Ministry’s aviation department, said in a televised interview on ONT channel on Saturday.
"A strangulation process is underway. To put it bluntly, those sanctions are a hostile takeover of the market and the business of the carrier that did not take any part in those events (the emergency landing of the Ryanair flight - TASS)," the official said.
According to Sikorsky, "in defiance of any international agreements, based on, in fact, fake news about the plane’s interception, those unweighted, unprofessional decisions have been taken, which are inconsistent with international requirements."
He said that the Belarusian air authorities were trying to work with international organizations "to debunk the fakes."
A passenger jet belonging to Ryanair, an Irish low-cost airline, performing a flight from Athens to Vilnius on May 23 was forced to make an emergency landing at Minsk International Airport after a bomb threat on board the plane had been reported. The quick reaction alert crew of a MiG-29 fighter jet was dispatched to escort the airliner.
A subsequent search after the aircraft had touched down in the Belarusian capital failed to find any information confirming the bomb scare. The Belarusian Investigative Committee opened a criminal probe into a deliberately false bomb threat message.
Minsk specified that Roman Protasevich, wanted in Belarus as a co-founder of the Nexta Telegram channel deemed extremist, had been among the flight’s passengers. He was taken into custody by law enforcement agents. In the evening, the plane took off from Minsk airport and landed in Vilnius later on May 23.
Following the incident, the EU leaders banned Belarusian airlines from EU airports and its airspace and called on European air carriers to avoid Belarus’ airspace.