EU joins UK in sanctions against Belarus over ‘hijacked’ plane
The European Union has joined the UK in further sanctions against Belarus as pressure mounts on Minsk over the arrest of a leading critic in what has been called a ‘state hijacking From an airplane.
A special EU Council meeting was held on Monday evening, hours before an already scheduled summit, with the 27 member states agreeing to ban Belarusian airlines from EU airspace and airports, and recommending that EU airlines not fly to the country.
It comes after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ordered the Civil Aviation Authority to ask airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace “to ensure passenger safety.” It also suspended the operating license of Belavia, the country’s public airline.
Journalist Roman Protasevich was on a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius when he was forced to change course for Minsk after a bomb threat, escorted by a MiG fighter jet.
He was arrested and, in a video released by Belarusian authorities on Monday evening, appeared to admit he was involved in organizing mass protests in Minsk last year.
Sitting at a table with his hands folded in front of him and speaking quickly, Protasevich said he was in good health and that his treatment in detention was “as correct as possible and in accordance with the law”.
Previously, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said it was “very hard to believe” that Mr. Protasevich’s seizure of the flight could have taken place “without at least the agreement of the Moscow authorities”.
He said that although the situation is not yet clear, relations between Minsk and Moscow suggested that the Russian leadership may have been aware of the plans in advance.
In the Commons, he declared: “It is very difficult to believe that this kind of action could have been taken without at least the consent of the authorities in Moscow, but, as I said, it is not yet clear.
Speaking to reporters later, he was asked why he thought this could not have happened without Russia knowing, and Mr Raab replied: “Based on all the circumstances. But we don’t know – it’s just the closeness of the relationship between Minsk and Moscow.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said the incident was a “state-funded hijack” and claimed Russian KGB agents were on board the flight.
“It was clear that the intention of the Russian authorities was to fire a journalist and his traveling companion. We believe that some KGB agents were also unloaded from the plane, ”he said.
In the EU, leaders also decided to sanction individual officials and called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to open an investigation into what was seen as an unprecedented measure, and what some have called terrorism. of state.
The bloc summoned the Belarusian ambassador “to condemn the inadmissible decision of the Belarusian authorities” and said in a statement that the arrest was “another blatant attempt to silence all voices of the opposition in the country”.
He would also consider “new targeted economic sanctions”, according to a statement.
Mr Raab said he would also consider further sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko’s administration – including the suspension of energy pipelines in Belarus – and that the country’s ambassador to London had been summoned for a band-aid.
The Foreign Minister told MPs that there were more than 100 passengers on the flight.
He called for Mr. Protasevich’s release from the “false accusations” he faces, adding: “Mr. Lukashenko’s regime must be held responsible for this reckless and dangerous behavior.”
He said the UK is making efforts to explore “all potential diplomatic options” and that it “is actively considering and coordinating with our allies further sanctions against those responsible for this extravagant conduct”.