European Union leaders will discuss retaliatory measures against Belarus at a summit dinner on Monday night, after the country’s president Alexander Lukashenko scrambled a jet fighter to force a Ryanair
flight carrying a dissident journalist to land in Minsk on Sunday.
- The Irish plane was on a regular flight from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, and was forced to land by Belarusian authorities after a bomb scare, later ruled a false alarm, was triggered by some passengers.
- Activist Roman Protasevich, 26, a passenger on the plane, was arrested by Belarusian police upon landing, before the plane was allowed to resume its journey.
- “This was effectively aviation piracy, state sponsored,” said Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney, reflecting the opinion of European policy makers.
- European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that “the outrageous and illegal behavior of the regime in Belarus will have consequence,” and demanded that Protasevich “be released immediately.”
- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked for an immediate meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization, and said the U.S. was coordinating with allies on the next steps, with NATO calling the incident “serious and dangerous.”
From the archives (August 2020): Here’s why the Belarus protests and the re-election of ‘Europe’s last dictator’ matter
The outlook. The EU was already discussing tightening further the sanctions decided against the Lukashenko regime, after last year’s fraught presidential elections. Several chairs of foreign affairs committees in some EU national parliaments have already called for a total ban on all flights in and out of the country.
The French government said a request had been sent to the International Civil Aviation Organization to suspend international flights over Belarusian airspace. Europeans will also consider, among other measures, banning the Belarusian state carrier Belavia from EU airports, as well as sanctions affecting ground transport.