EU leaders and NATO’s secretary-general sharply criticized Belarus on Sunday for diverting a Ryanair flight to Minsk in order to detain a Belarusian activist.
“Very concerned regarding reports of a forced landing of #Ryanair flight in Minsk. We call on Belarus authorities to immediately release the flight and all its passengers,” European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter.
He stressed that an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) investigation of the incident will be essential.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen defined the incident as “outrageous and illegal behavior” and said there will be consequences.
“Those responsible for the #Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned. Journalist Roman Protasevich must be released immediately,” she tweeted, adding the European Commission will discuss the issue on Monday.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he is also closely monitoring the “forcible landing” and detention of “opposition figure Roman Protasevich.”
“This is a serious & dangerous incident which requires international investigation. Belarus must ensure safe return of crew & all passengers,” he wrote on Twitter.
On Sunday, a Belarusian MIG-29 fighter jet scrambled to escort a Ryanair Boeing 737-8AS that was passing through Belarus’ airspace while heading from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania, forcing it to land in Minsk over a bomb threat and Roman Protasevich, a journalist who was wanted for his involvement in “terrorist incidents,” was reportedly detained.
After that, the plane finally landed in the Lithuanian capital over seven hours after its planned arrival.
Protasevich is the founder of the social media news channel NEXTA, which reportedly played a major role in protests last summer in Belarus’ capital Minsk demanding the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko after he was awarded a sixth term in a presidential election that was criticized for being rigged.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also “strongly” condemned the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight heading from Greece to Lithuania.
“The United States strongly condemns the forced diversion of a flight between two EU member states and the subsequent removal and arrest of journalist Roman Pratasevich in Minsk,” said Blinken in a statement.
The top US diplomat demanded Pratasevich’s immediate release.
“This shocking act perpetrated by the Lukashenko regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens.
“Initial reports suggesting the involvement of the Belarusian security services and the use of a Belarusian military aircraft to escort the plane are deeply concerning and require full investigation,” said Blinken.
The US is closely coordinating a response with its partners, including the EU and Lithuanian and Greek officials, he added.