UK tells airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace after commercial plane forced to land
The United Kingdom (U.K.) has told airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace after the country’s president diverted a plane and forced it to land in the capital of Minsk, resulting in the arrest of a journalist.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Monday that all airlines in the U.K. received a notice to halt flights through Belarusian airspace “to ensure the safety of all air passengers.”
The U.K. also suspended the operating permit on Belarusian airline Belavia “with immediate effect,” said Raab, noting that Belavia is the only airline that flies regularly between the U.K. and Belarus.
Additionally, Raab said the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority will be instructed not to issue any more ad hoc permits to airlines that fly between the U.K. and Belarus “as a precautionary measure.”
The announcement comes after Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko on Sunday deployed a fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair plane with a prominent opposition journalist on board and forced the plane to divert and land in Minsk.
Journalist Roman Protasevich, 26, was arrested after the plane landed.
Lukashenko, who has led Belarus for 26 years, personally ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to fly with the Ryanair plane to the Minsk airport, according to The New York Times. He reportedly gave an “unequivocal order” to “make the plane do a U-turn and land.”
Raab said officials are considering actions against the individuals responsible for “this outlandish conduct.”
“Beyond the diplomatic track, we are actively considering and coordinating with our allies on further sanctions on those responsible for this outlandish conduct,” Raab said, according to a clip of his remarks posted by BBC.
He characterized the situation as a “reprehensible action under the Lukashenko regime.”
“The U.K. will stand firm in protecting freedom of the media, upholding international law, and maintaining the safety of international civil aviation,” Raab said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday condemned the forced landing, calling the episode a “shocking act” that endangered the lives of U.S. citizens and all other individuals on board.
“The United States once again condemns the Lukashenko regime’s ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists. We stand with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a free, democratic, and prosperous future and support their call for the regime to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Blinked wrote in a statement.
He also called for the “immediate release” of Protasevich.