On June 4, the Council of the European Union decided to strengthen the existing restrictive measures in view of the situation in Belarus by introducing a ban on the overflight of EU airspace and on access to EU airports by Belarusian carriers of all kinds.
EU member states will therefore be required to deny permission to land in, take off from or overfly their territories to any aircraft operated by Belarusian air carriers, including as a marketing carrier.
“Today’s decision follows up on the European Council conclusions of 24 and 25 May 2021, in which EU heads of state and government strongly condemned the unlawful forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk on 23 May 2021 endangering aviation safety. The conclusions also condemned the detention by Belarusian authorities of journalist Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega, and called on the Council to adopt the necessary measures, including additional listings of persons and entities on the basis of the relevant sanctions framework, and further targeted economic sanctions,” the statement reads.
The ban will come into force on June, 5 at 0.00 am (CET).
On May 23, a Ryanair’s Boeing 737-8AS flying over Belarus was forced to land in Minsk by the local authorities claiming that they got the information about a bomb planted onboard. Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka personally gave the order; to ‘escort’ the passenger carrier, a MiG-29 fighter was scrambled. It should be noted that the plane was not far from the Belarusian-Lithuanian air border at that moment; it was at a distance of 90 km from Vilnius and about 200 km – from Minsk. Emigre journalist Raman Pratasevich and his companion, Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, were arrested by security services in the Belarusian capital city. The operation of forcibly landing the Ryanair airplane seems to have been deliberately planned and performed by pro-Lukashenka secret services.
In the wake of the controversial situation, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary slammed Belarusian officials, labelling the steps taken by them as ‘state-sponsored hijacking’.
The outrageous incident has triggered a mighty international row. Politicians, diplomats, international organisations denounced the actions of the Lukashenka regime. The participants in the European Council meeting held on May, 24 strongly condemned the recent forced landing of the flight and, among other things, called for adopting the necessary measures to ban overflight of EU airspace by Belarusian airlines and prevent access to EU airports of flights operated by them. US President Joe Biden called the grounding of the Ryanair plane and the arrest of the journalist ‘shameful assaults on political dissent’.
On May 27, G7 foreign ministers and EU High Representative Josep Borrell announced ‘enhancing efforts to promote accountability for the actions of the Belarus authorities’.