Personnel at Belarus’ diplomatic mission to NATO will have restricted access to the alliance’s headquarters following the grounding of a passenger plane by Minsk, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday.
Belarus has had a diplomatic mission to NATO since April 1998.
“We have decided to restrict the access of Belarusian personnel to the NATO headquarters,” Stoltenberg told at a conference, without giving more details.
Earlier, NATO Secretary-General strongly condemned the forced landing of a civilian aircraft by he Belarusian authorities as well as the arrest of Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich and his travel companion Sofia Sapega.
“We call on an independent, international investigation, and we also clearly state that this is not only something which violates international laws and rules, but also, an attack on the freedom of expression and the free and independent press,” he stressed.
On May 23, a Ryanair’s Boeing 737-8AS 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.
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’.