EU leaders are preparing to punish the Minsk regime for disrupting Ryanair flights after Britain warned airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace and barred the Eastern European national carrier from its airports.
The White House joined the international condemnation on Sunday of the arrest of Ryanair flight dealer and leading opposition activist Roman Protasic.
“We are outraged,” Psaki said, referring to the Belarusian regime’s blatant violation of international law and security for international peace and security.
“We demand an immediate, international, transparent and credible investigation into this incident,” he said, adding that the United States had conveyed its concerns directly to Russia and Belarus because of the close ties between the two countries.
Ryanair called the cancellation of the flight from Athens to Vilnius a “piracy operation”, while several European airlines, including Latvian airbaltic and Scandinavian SAS, said they were suspending the use of Belarusian airspace.
The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Ze Elensky also instructed his government to ban all direct flights from Ukraine to Belarus and to ban any flights from Ukraine through its airspace.
The UK, the EU and the United States are considering a number of possible sanctions, with officials saying British Foreign Secretary Dominique Raab described Sunday’s forcible landing as a “threat to civilian flights everywhere”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has demanded the immediate release of Protasevich and her partner Sofia Sapega. “We will demand it, but at the same time we will discuss what measures we can take against Belarus,” he said before the meeting of EU leaders.
EU diplomats say one of the EU ideas under scrutiny is aimed at the business interests of oligarchs who fund the Belarusian regime. It will hurt Lukashenko and his allies, while avoiding greater economic sanctions that could hurt ordinary Belarusians.
Other sanctions being considered by 27 EU leaders include banning national airline Belavia from EU airports. Recognition of the country’s airspace as insecure. According to EU diplomats, the ban on dozens of officials in Minsk has already been imposed due to violations of the right to freeze assets.
Aide to Belarus’s exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanuskaya has called for a no-fly zone over Belarus. He called for further sanctions against Belarus’s lucrative oil and gas fields, which are a major source of revenue for Lukashenko’s 27-year-old regime.
Relations between Brussels and Minsk have deteriorated since last year’s presidential election, following pressure. In December, European leaders imposed a new wave of sanctions on other members of Lukashenko’s regime.
Belarus is still part of the “Eastern Partnership”, which the EU has with six countries near the Russian border, enjoying benefits such as the visa facilitation agreement launched last year. The EU once hoped to get Minsk out of the Kremlin’s orbit, but that ambition seems to be doomed after Sunday’s events.
Psaki said that Washington coordinates bilateral partners – multilateral groups, including NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – the United Nations.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry called the criticism of its actions “baseless”, while Russia called the EU response “shocking”.
According to Belarusian media, Lukashenko personally ordered the cancellation of Ryanair flight FR4978. It was transporting 171 passengers from Greece to Lithuania on Sunday, but changed dramatically to the Belarusian capital shortly after leaving the country’s airspace.
Belarusian officials say the MiG-29 fighter jet tried to escort the plane to Minsk after fears of a bomb, which it later admitted were “fake”.
Merkel said Belarus’ explanations for the plane landing were “completely unbelievable.”
Belarus Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz said his aviation authorities had acted “in full compliance with international law.” Glaze accused EU countries of “rushing to make openly belligerent statements.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry responded to Belarus’ attack by reacting to Western reactions to the incident, accusing them of hypocrisy.
“It is shocking that the West calls the incident in Belarus airspace ‘shocking,'” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zak Akharova wrote on her Facebook page, citing other examples of Western-splinter drones arresting wanted individuals. ,
Additional reports by Erika Solomon in Berlin, Philip Georgia Orjadis in London, Katrina Manson in Washington, Richard Milne in Oslo, and Roman Olearchik in Kiev