A Ryanair plane was intercepted over Belarusian airspace on Sunday. An opposition journalist is arrested on the ground. The EU is outraged and is responding with sanctions. Several European airlines are now also drawing conclusions.
After the forced landing of a Ryanair plane in Minsk and the arrest of a well-known opposition member, Belarus can expect far-reaching consequences: The EU heads of state and government launched new sanctions against the authoritarian country on Monday evening. They agreed to block the airspace for aircraft from Belarus as well as a landing ban at EU airports and called on EU airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace.
“We will not tolerate attempts to play Russian roulette with the lives of innocent civilians,” said EU Council President Charles Michel following the summit discussions on Tuesday night. The heads of state and government have decided “additional sanctions against individuals who were involved in this kidnapping,” said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Companies that “finance this regime” should also be able to be sanctioned.
These airlines do not fly over Belarus
Several airlines from the EU announced that they would avoid Belarus airspace for security reasons in order to avoid a situation like the one with the Ryanair plane.
Air Baltic: The Latvian airline will avoid Belarusian airspace for the time being. The airline has decided to avoid entering Belarusian airspace until the situation clears up or the authorities take a decision, a company spokeswoman said in Riga. Air Baltic is the largest airline in the Baltic States.
Air France: The French airline suspends its flights in Belarusian airspace. A spokesman confirmed the corresponding French media reports for the German Press Agency in Paris on Tuesday.
Finnair: The Finnish airline will no longer fly through Belarusian airspace for the time being. The company announced this on Tuesday. According to the broadcaster Yle, Finnair seldom flies over Belarus. Flights to Turkey and Greece are primarily affected.
KLM: The airline based in the Netherlands decided not to fly through Belarusian airspace for the time being.
Lufthansa: The German airline will avoid Belarusian airspace for the time being. “Due to the current dynamic situation, we are suspending the operation in Belarusian airspace for the time being,” announced the company on Monday evening.
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS): The Scandinavian airline, which has its hubs in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, has announced that it will no longer fly over Belarus in the future.
Wizz Air: Wizz Air also avoids Belarusian airspace. A spokesman for the airline announced on Monday that a flight from the Ukrainian capital Kiev to Tallinn (Estonia) had been diverted so that it would not have to pass through Belarusian airspace. “We are continuously monitoring and evaluating the situation,” he told the BNS agency.
Also Singapore Airlines announced that the flights would be diverted to Europe so as not to fly over Belarus. “The safety of our customers and crews is a top priority,” said a spokesman for the Singapore airline. British planes are also to avoid Belarusian airspace by order of the government in London.
Belarus Airline suspends flights to London and Paris
The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi ordered a stop of direct flights to and from Belarus. Ukrainian planes would also no longer fly through Belarusian airspace, announced the presidency in Kiev. The ban mainly affects trips between Ukraine and Russia, where many passengers stop in Minsk because there have been no direct connections since 2015.
Belarus’ state airline, however, is suspending its flights to London and Paris until the end of October. Belavia is reacting to a ban by France and Great Britain for machines from the ex-Soviet republic, the company announced on Tuesday. They regret the current situation “which we cannot change”.
Flights to Berlin and Warsaw were also planned for this Tuesday from the airport of the Belarusian capital Minsk. Initially, however, only the connection to Paris was canceled in the morning.
EU wants to keep up pressure on Belarus
On Sunday Belarus forced a Ryanair plane on its way from Athens to Vilnius to make a stopover in Minsk under the pretext of a bomb threat and with a fighter jet. The opposition activist Roman Protasevich, who lived in exile in Poland and Lithuania, and his girlfriend from Russia were arrested there.
Protasevich was formerly editor-in-chief of the opposition Telegram news channel Nexta. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were mobilized through Nexta after the presidential election in Belarus, which was accompanied by massive allegations of fraud last August. Protasevich is accused of having triggered mass protests, which in Belarus can result in up to 15 years in prison.
Because of the events surrounding the presidential election and the massive action taken by the security forces against demonstrators, EU sanctions are already in place against around 90 people responsible in Belarus, including against the authoritarian Lukashenko. In December, sanctions were also imposed on seven state-affiliated companies. Another package of sanctions against around 40 other Belarusians was planned for June.
Von der Leyen announced that he would maintain the pressure on the government in Minsk until further notice. In the EU, a three billion euro investment and economic package has been available for the country for a long time, she said. However, this remains “frozen (…) until Belarus becomes democratic”.