This week, Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary sent a letter to the director of Belarus’s department of aviation, The Wall Street Journal informs. The letter which was reviewed by the WSJ has not been reported before.
According to the WSC authors, Mr O’Leary described the incident as a ‘premeditated and unlawful’ hijacking and ‘an illegal and reprehensible action.’
“Ryanair Holdings PLC rejected Belarus’s account of the diversion of one of its planes Sunday, angrily condemning the forced landing in a private letter and calling on the government to identify three passengers the company said it suspects are security-services agents,” the WSJ said in the article.
In his letter, Michael O’Leary stresses that employees of Minsk Airport were trying to prevent the plane from returning to the sky; in particular, they were reluctant to refuel the plane at first, then they refused to accept a credit card payment for fuel, they failed to provide an interpreter to the crew. The Belarusian authorities did not make any attempt to contact the Ryanair headquarters either.
The company’s head called for the release of Raman Pratasevich, a ‘prominent dissident living in exile who was a passenger, along with his girlfriend’.
On May 23, a Ryanair commercial jet flying over Belarus en route from Athens to Vilnius 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. Blogger Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend, 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.
On Monday, in the wake of the controversial situation, Ryanair CEO slammed Belarusian officials, labelling the steps taken by them as ‘state-sponsored hijacking’.
The outrageous air 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’.