After the state-sponsored act of terrorism on 23 May in Belarus where the country’s dictatorship deceived a commercial aircraft to land in Minsk and kidnapped a Belarusian journalist, the European Council – of which Estonia is a member of – the day after called on all European Union-based airlines to avoid flying over Belarus.
The Belarusian dictatorship, led by president Alyaksandr Lukashenka, on 23 May used deceit and force to pressure a Ryanair flight – en route from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania – to make an emergency landing in Minsk. The Belarusian authorities then boarded the aircraft and kidnapped a critic of the regime, journalist Raman Pratasevich, and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.
The Minsk airport staff reportedly told the aircraft crew they had received a report of a bomb aboard. The Lithuanian airport authorities noted they had not been informed of a bomb threat. Despite the fact that the aircraft was closer to Vilnius, Lukashenka, according to this press service, personally ordered the plane redirected to Minsk and sent a Belarusian Air Force MiG-29 fighter aircraft to escort it.
Prior to his state-sponsored kidnapping, Pratasevich is said to have noted that if he were to be taken by the Belarusian authorities, he would be facing the death penalty. The exiled Belarusian opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, warned about the same.
The next day, on 24 May, the European Council called upon all EU-based carriers to avoid the Belarusian airspace. Air Baltic, the Latvian flag carrier, announced already earlier in the day that it will stop flying above Belarus. Ryanair, however, refused to learn from the incident and flew from Paphos, Cyprus, to Tallinn, Estonia, again above Belarus.
The European Council also demanded the immediate release of Pratasevich and Sapega, and also for “the necessary measures to ban overflight of EU airspace by Belarusian airlines and prevent access to EU airports of flights operated by such airlines”.
Estonia summons the Belarusian ambassador
The Estonian foreign ministry on 24 May summoned the Belarusian ambassador to Tallinn, Vyacheslav Kachanov, to protest the forced landing of the Ryanair flight and the arrest of Pratasevich.
“These steps by the Belarusian regime endangered air traffic and the lives of passengers and flight crew. This kind of action is completely unacceptable and an investigation into all circumstances of this event must be carried out immediately,” the Estonian foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The journalist and his companion who were arrested after the plane was forced to land must be released immediately, and they must be allowed to leave Belarus if they desire.”
“Estonia considers this kind of action unacceptable, as it clearly violates international law. The international community must respond to this grave violation of international law, and Estonia has started consultations at the UN Security Council to raise this incident at the Council.”
The European Council is a collegiate body that defines the overall political directions and priorities of the European Union. It comprises the heads of state or government of the EU member states, along with the president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission.
Cover: A different Ryanair plane in Athens (photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash), Alyaksandr Lukashenka (Wikipedia) and Raman Pratasevich. Collage by Estonian World.