A growing number of European carriers, including all airlines based in the United Kingdom, are now avoiding entry into Belarus' airspace following Sunday's dramatic events involving the diversion of a Ryanair flight carrying Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Pratasevich.
The BBC is confirming that "The UK government has told airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace after a Ryanair flight was diverted to Minsk and an opposition journalist arrested." The government said this is necessary "to keep passengers safe".
JUST: UK directed all its airlines to avoid #Belarus’ airspace following Protasevich kidnapping. Follows Lithuania gov, SAS, Air Baltic, Wizz Air airlines.— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) May 24, 2021
Flight trackers show ✈️ skirting Belarus: pic.twitter.com/cNgBhFX915
Britain's Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced Monday: "Following the forced diversion of a Ryanair aircraft to Minsk yesterday, I’ve instructed the UK Civil Aviation Authority to request airlines avoid Belarusian airspace in order to keep passengers safe."
He also said "I have also suspended Belavia’s operating permit" - in reference to the state-owned national airline company of Belarus.
The Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania had been intercepted and escorted by Belrusian Air Force MiG-21 jets, which US and EU officials have slammed as putting the 170 passengers at risk. Americans had been among the international passengers on board. Pratasevich had been arrested the moment the plane touched down in Minsk.
A growing list of airliners are now said to be avoiding the airspace, particularly out of Baltic states, after a number of European governments expressed shock and outrage at the "state hijacking" of the Ryanair flight on Sunday. Ireland's Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary also belatedly issued a statement after not commenting for much of Sunday. He affirmed that the company sees it as a brazen instance of "a state-sponsored hijacking" which happened without warning. He said further:
"It was clear that the intent of the Belarusian authorities was to remove a journalist and his traveling companion. We believe some KGB agents [State Security Committee of Belarus] were offloaded from the aircraft as well."
❗️According to his mother, Roman Protasevich is in hospital in critical condition - heart disease. pic.twitter.com/5YKx3WLFyq— Tadeusz Giczan (@TadeuszGiczan) May 24, 2021
Meanwhile, in a worrisome development which is beginning to have echoes of the Navalny saga, there are now significant rumors that Protasevich has been hospitalized.
It also comes amid reports that the journalist and activist who had a major presence on the anti-Lukashenko Telegram channel Nexta could either face execution or even be extrajudicially "disappeared".
Global outrage as Belarus forces a passenger plane carrying a wanted opposition activist to divert and land in its capitalhttps://t.co/Ji1aHOHeM0— AFP News Agency (@AFP) May 24, 2021
📹 Passengers aboard the Ryanair flight carrying dissident journalist Roman Protasevich describe what happened during the flight pic.twitter.com/h4512Wx1tP
As we underscored earlier, the whole bizarre ordeal is setting up yet another major diplomatic clash between the West and Russia, especially after Moscow called out the US and EU for it's "double standard" and selective outrage - given past notable instances of European governments and the US doing the same thing.
For example, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova issued the following Monday statement: "Either the should be shocked by everything: from the forced landings in Austria of the plane of the president of Bolivia at the request of the United States and in Ukraine after 11 minutes of takeoff of a Belarusian flight with an Antimaidan activist. Or they should not be shocked by similar behavior by others."