Change Edition

EU leaders vow sanctions on Belarus over seizure of Ryanair jet
politics

EU leaders vow sanctions on Belarus over seizure of Ryanair jet

3 min. 25.05.2021 From our online archive
In a public show of support, President Vladimir Putin is reportedly to meet Lukashenko later this week
A 26-year-old Raman Pratasevich who was on board the flight from Athens to Vilnius was arrested in Minsk
A 26-year-old Raman Pratasevich who was on board the flight from Athens to Vilnius was arrested in Minsk
Photo credit: Foto: AFP

European Union leaders kicked off the process for adding more sanctions against Belarus and imposed an effective flight blockade on the country over the forced landing of a Ryanair Holdings Plc jet and the arrest of a dissident journalist.

On the first of two days of summit talks in Brussels, the leaders on Monday asked the European Commission to propose Belarusian officials who should be added to an existing blacklist and told their ministers to come up with broader measures to target businesses and entire sectors of the country’s economy.

“This is an attack on democracy, this is an attack on freedom of expression and this is an attack on European sovereignty,” Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, told reporters. She mentioned additional sanctions “on individuals that are involved in the hijacking but this time also on businesses and entities that are financing this regime.”

The leaders also vowed to ban Belarusian Airlines from entering EU airspace and asked EU-based carriers to avoid flying over Belarus.

US President Joe Biden welcomed the EU decision in a statement on Monday night and said that he has asked his advisers “to develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible, in close coordination with the European Union, other allies and partners, and international organizations.”

The measures followed the forced landing of a Ryanair jet in Minsk and the arrest of 26-year-old Raman Pratasevich who was on board the flight from Athens to Vilnius. The EU called on President Alexander Lukashenko to release the journalist and on the International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate the incident.

“We do not tolerate that people try to play Russian roulette with the lives of innocent civilians,” said Charles Michel, who chaired the summit.

The tougher stance against Belarus coincided with a scheduled discussion on its close ally Russia. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda called for measures to limit Russia’s access to financial markets and international payment systems.

Von der Leyen said that Russia has tried to weaken the EU and undermine member states through “sabotage, assassinations, divide-and-rule tactics, cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns.”

“It is getting worse,” she said. The leaders asked the commission to set out options for pushing back against Putin when they meet next month.

Russia has backed Belarus’s handing of the situation and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted Minsk’s explanation of the episode was “reasonable.” In a public show of support, President Vladimir Putin is reportedly to meet Lukashenko later this week, for the third time this year.

Fighter escort

Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas said Belarus had scrambled a jet Sunday while the Ryanair pilot was still deliberating whether to divert or not. The fighter was up in the air for 13 minutes and remained about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the passenger plane. The minister said that the same fighter then escorted the plane onward from Minsk to Vilnius.

The leaders discussed the crisis, as well as relations with Russia, without their mobile phones and other electronic devices in an effort to ensure their talks remained confidential. At the same time, Pratasevich appeared in a video posted by state-owned media channels.

Speaking in monotone from what appeared to be a jail in Minsk, Pratasevich said that he is cooperating with the investigation into his activities and providing evidence that he sought to foment unrest in the country.

Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said the video was a propaganda tactic by the Lukashenko regime.

The EU has already imposed sanctions on dozens of individuals and seven entities, including Lukashenko and other senior government officials, and was already working on a new round of measures to present next month. In light of this weekend’s incident and the mandate provided by EU leaders, those new restrictive measures are likely to now be tougher.

In addition to adding more people and entities to the list, the bloc could set out action targeting the financial and economic interests of the regime, including businesses and oligarchs. The proposals will be prepared by the EU’s foreign affairs arm before they go back to member states for approval.

European governments could struggle to open direct communication channels with Minsk. Lukashenko has in the past year refused to take calls from EU leaders, according to two people familiar with the matter.

NATO ambassadors will also discuss the incident on Tuesday.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.


The Luxembourg Times has a new mobile app, download here! Get the Luxembourg Times delivered to your inbox twice a day. Sign up for your free newsletters here.


More on this topic