EU to sanction Belarus over diverted flight
The European Union on Monday agreed to impose sanctions on Belarus after the country’s president ordered a plane to divert and land in the capital of Minsk, resulting in the arrest of an activist.
The Associated Press reported that the sanctions include banning Belarusian airlines from flying in the airspace of the 27-nation bloc, or using their airports.
The EU leaders also called for the immediate release of Raman Pratasevich, 26, the activist who was arrested upon the plane’s unexpected landing.
The sanctions are in response to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday deploying a fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair plane with Pratasevich on board, and forcing it to divert and land in Minsk.
Lukashenko, who has led Belarus for 26 years, personally directed 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.”
The EU leaders called the situation a “hijacking” of the flight, according to the AP.
“We won’t tolerate that one can try to play Russian roulette with the lives of innocent civilians,” EU Council Chief Charles Michel said, according to the AP.
The United Kingdom on Monday told airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace following the diverted plane.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also announced that all airlines in the U.K. received a notice to halt flights through Belarusian airspace “to ensure the safety of all air passengers.”
Additionally, the U.K. also suspended the operating permit on Belarusian airline Belavia “with immediate effect.” Belavia, Raab noted, is the only airline that flies regularly between the U.K. and Belarus.
Raab also 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.”
President Biden on Monday denounced the forced diversion and said his administration is considering the appropriate response to Lukashenko’s government.
Biden called the episode “a direct affront to international norms” and called for Pratasevich’s release.