On Sunday, the Ryanair airline commented on the grave incident regarding the grounding of its Athens-Vilnius flight in Belarus.
“On May 23, the crew on a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius were notified by Belarus Air Traffic Control of a potential security threat on board and were instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk. The aircraft landed safely and passengers were offloaded while security checks were completed by local authorities. Nothing untoward was found and authorities cleared the aircraft to depart together with passengers and crew after approximately 7 hours on the ground in Minsk,” Ryanair’s press service said when reached by Belsat.
The plane finally landed in Vilnius, its original destination, at 21:25 local time (18:25 GMT).
On May 24, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary called the Belarusian authorities’ decision a ‘state-sponsored hijacking’.
“This was a case of state-sponsored hijacking … state-sponsored piracy. It appears the intent of the authorities was to remove a journalist and his travelling companion … we believe there were some KGB agents offloaded at the [Belarusian] airport as well,” Reuters quotes O’Leary.
On May 23, Ryanair’s Boeing 737-8AS which was flying from Athens to Vilnius unexpectedly changed its course over the Belarusian town of Lida and headed to Minsk. Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka personally gave the order to land the plane in the Belarusian capital city; in 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.
A bit later, it became known that the Belarusian authorities arrested journalist Raman Pratasevich, whom they consider as a ‘terrorist’ at Minsk National Airport; he happened to be among the passengers of the widely-reported flight. The bomb threat was officially refuted by the airport administration. The operation of forcibly landing the Ryanair airplane seems to have been deliberately planned and performed by pro-Lukashenka secret services.
In November 2020, Stsyapan Putsila, the founder of NEXTA TG channels, and Raman Pratasevich, a former deputy editor of the channels, were included in the ‘List of organisations and individuals involved in terrorist activities’ by the Belarusian authorities. The NEXTA group kept steering and controlling the 2020 post-election protests in Belarus via channels on the web, the regime believes.