The British government has told all UK planes to stop flying over Belarus and summoned the country’s ambassador amid outrage over the arrest of an opposition blogger and his girlfriend when their Ryanair flight was forced to make an emergency landing in Minsk.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described the act as a “reckless, cynical and dangerous hijacking of a Ryanair flight by the Belarusian government” and said new sanctions against Belarus were being considered. The operating permit for Belavia, the country’s state airline, has also been suspended in the UK.
The UK’s response comes ahead of a meeting of EU leaders on Monday night that could take action against Belarus, including banning Belavia from EU airports and suspending all Belarusian flights over Belarusian territory. UK.
In a statement issued this Monday morning on behalf of the EU, Josep Borrell, the bloc’s high representative for foreign affairs, called for an international investigation into the incident and warned that those involved face sanctions. “The EU will consider the consequences of this action, including taking action against those responsible,” he said.
Raab told the Commons that the Belarusian ambassador had been summoned to provide an explanation and told MPs that he was urgently seeing what additional sanctions could be imposed on Belarusian individuals and entities, but stressed that he wanted to act in coordination with allies, including the EU.
He also said the UK plans to raise the issue at the UN Security Council, the G7 world leaders summit and the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Raab said he had to be careful what he said, but “it was very difficult to believe that this particular action was not taken with the acquiescence of the Russian authorities.” He stressed that he had no direct intelligence on the subject at this stage.
He warned Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko that “he looked well entrenched because of Russia’s protective umbrella.”
Raab’s initial package of measures in response was very well received by Conservative MPs, although some, including the chairman of the select committee on foreign affairs, Tom Tugendhat, raised the question of trying to cut the strategic energy pipelines that keep the power company afloat Belarusian economy.
Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega were flying from Athens to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, when the plane was diverted to Minsk. Protasevich, a former editor of the influential Telegram channels Nexta and Nexta Live, was detained by police in Minsk after Lukashenko ordered his military to launch a Mig-29 fighter to engage the plane.
Ryanair said Belarusian flight controllers told the pilots that there was a bomb threat against the plane and ordered them to land in Minsk. Raab said Britain had seen no evidence to support the claim of a bomb threat.
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said he believed Belarusian KGB agents were traveling on the plane in the first official confirmation of reports that four other passengers had disembarked in Minsk after the emergency landing, leading to speculation that Protasevich was being followed by the security service.
“It seems that the intention of the authorities was to remove a journalist and his traveling companion … we believe that there were also some KGB agents unloaded at the airport,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism