MOSCOW, May 24. /TASS/. The incident with the Ryanair plane from Athens to Vilnius that carried out an emergency landing in Minsk over a false bomb threat, and the arrest of the Nexta Telegram channel founder Roman Protasevich has elicited a strong negative reaction from the West.
Lithuania called the situation an act of state terrorism, while EU High Representative Josep Borrell called it "an act of piracy." The EU may consider banning Belarusian airline carriers from landing in EU member states and restrict ground transit shipment during the EU summit Monday.
TASS summarized the main reactions to the incident.
On May 23, an Irish Ryanair plane, en route from Athens to Vilnius, carried out an emergency landing in Minsk after being warned of a bomb on board. According to Ryanair, the command to land the plane was received from Belarusian airspace control. A Belarusian Air Force MiG-29 scrambled to escort the plane.
No bomb was discovered, and later, Minsk disclosed that Roman Protasevich was onboard the plane. He was apprehended by Belarusian law enforcement. He and another Nexta co-founder Stepan Putilo, are accused of organizing mass riots and inciting social enmity and hate in Belarus; both of them are on the Belarusian Security Committee (KGB) list of people involved in terrorism. Under Belarusian law, Protasevich may face up to 15 years in prison.
After the landing, Lithuanian law enforcement initiated a criminal case over charges of plane capturing.
Demand for new sanctions
Immediately after the incident, Vilnius called on Brussels to provide a decisive response to Minsk. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis noted during his phone call with Borrell that the forced landing of Ryanair plane and detention of EU citizens "is a violation of international norms, an outrageous challenge to the entire EU, which must be met in the strongest decisive terms."
The President of Lithuania Gitanas Nauseda called it an "act of state terrorism." He claimed that Vilnius intends to propose a significant extension of sanctions against Belarusian authorities. In particular, Germany, France, Belgium, as well as European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, also called for new sanctions. According to Swedish Foreign Minister, OSCE President Ann Linde, the EU is already preparing the fourth package of sanctions against Minsk.
Additionally, Lithuania has proposed stripping Belarus of Interpol membership, accusing Minsk of using international instruments for the persecution of political opposition.
Possible flights and transit ban
According to a report by Bloomberg, the EU considers potentially barring Minsk from landing planes in EU member states. Brussels may also ban ground transit shipments to the EU through Belarus.
Meanwhile, France announced working on measures to restrict flights over Belarus in cooperation with other EU states. According to a Reuters report citing Paris, these measures may include barring BelAvia from EU airports.
Some countries are already taking unilateral measures. Reuters reported citing the Lithuanian Transportation Minister that all flights traveling from and into the republic must avoid Belarusian airspace.
Some European companies have already started changing their routes. For example, Latvia’s AirBaltic already made a decision not to fly over Belarus. Hungary’s Wizz Air also redirected its Kiev-Tallinn flight in circumvention of the Belarusian airspace. Some reports suggest that Poland’s LOT airline may possibly be banned from flying above the republic.
Russian Federal Agency of Air Transport disclosed that flights through Belarus are going ahead as normal.
In response to the harsh reaction of the West, Minsk called it an "intentional politicization" of the situation. Belarusian Foreign Minister Anatoly Glaz pointed out that Belarus’s actions in regards to the emergency landing comply with international rules, adding that individual criticisms from the West are hasty.
Belarus has established a commission to look into the Ryanair plane landing and initiated a criminal case over the false bomb threat.
Reaction of US, NATO
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that Washington decisively condemns the incident and demand Protasevich’s release. According to Blinken, reports of Belarusian intelligence services’ involvement and engagement of a military jet for an escort must be thoroughly investigated.
The US also called on the International Civilian Aviation Organization (ICAO) to summon the council to discuss the event. ICAO has already stated that the incident may violate the Convention on International Civil Aviation and called on all interested sides to provide more information on the event.
NATO also called for an international investigation. NATO member states’ envoys will discuss the incident on May 25.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to provide an assessment on the plane landing, noting that it is up to international aviation structures to review the situation from the standpoint of compliance with international norms.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry expressed its surprise at the West’s reaction.
"One must either be shocked by everything: from the forced landing of Bolivian President’s plane in Austria under the US’s request, as well as the forced landing of a Belarusian flight with an Anti-Maidan activist onboard in Ukraine. Or they should not be shocked by the similar behavior of others," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.