Russia Regrets Over EU Decision To Suspend Flights Over Belarus

Rahim Huseynli Feature 25 May 2021
Russia Regrets Over EU Decision To Suspend Flights Over Belarus

The spokesman of the Russian president Dmitry Peskov has said that Moscow regrets the EU's decision to suspend flights over Belarus over the arrest of a Belarusian blogger from a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius that was diverted to Minsk.

"One can only express regret here. It is very expensive for any airline to fly around the territory of a rather big country located in the center of Europe," Peskov said on May 25, adding that "perhaps one should objectively look into what happened first and then discuss on the basis on specific information. But our European colleagues chose a different way". 

On May 23, a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was diverted to Minsk over a bomb alert, which turned out to be a hoax. A dissident Belarusian journalist, the ex-editor of the opposition NEXTA Telegram channel, Roman Protasevich, who faces criminal charges in Belarus, was detained before the plane was allowed to resume its flight. 

Following the incident, the European countries accused Belarus of "state terrorism". European leaders have agreed to impose new sanctions on Belarus in response to the forced landing of the plane.  The incident caused immediate outrage and claims of kidnapping as well as accusations that Belarus has carried out an illegal act of state-sponsored terrorism.

European Union leaders decided to ban Belarusian airlines from carrying out flights to EU airports and flying in EU airspace after the incident. European airlines were also advised to suspend all flights in Belarusian airspace. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the hijacking the Ryanair flight, and demanded an immediate release of Roman Protasevich. “This shocking act perpetrated by the [Belarusian President Alexander] Lukashenko regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens,” he said. 

Earlier, EU imposed sanctions on 40 senior Belarusian officials in October 2020 for organizing a brutal police crackdown on protesters and repression of the people by security forces to keep incumbent Lukashenko in power.

A number of countries have already cut air traffic links with Belarus. The Ukrainian government adopted a decision to sever air links with Belarus and ban flights over Belarusian territory starting from May 26. In a response, the Belarusian embassy in Ukraine sent a note of protest to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry over the Ukrainian government's decision. 

Belarus scrambled a MiG-29 fighter to force down the Ryanair passenger plane flying over its territory and arrested a passenger, the former editor and co-founder of the opposition Nexta Telegram channel, who now faces the death penalty. Protasevich has reported Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s repression of the opposition movement and played a big role in organizing and controlling the mass protests last summer.

Protasevich was followed to the airport in Athens by Belarusian KGB agents, some of whom got on the plane with him. Once the plane entered Belarusian air space the presumed agents engaged with the Ryanair staff, claiming there was a bomb on board. 

Protasevich was in Athens where he had been covering a visit by opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a former presidential candidate who has declared herself the country’s leader-in-exile due to widespread fraud during last year’s elections.

Tikhanovskaya’s headquarters were quickly informed of the incident and raised the alarm, contacting Ryanair, EU politicians and broadcasting the news on social media. “The regime endangered the safety of passengers on board and all civil aviation in order to retaliate against the man who was the editor of the largest Belarusian independent telegram channels. He was recognised as a terrorist only for that, and only for that now in Belarus Raman can be threatened with the death penalty,” Tikhanovskaya said on Twitter.