The US is extremely concerned and assessing the safety of flights over the territory of Belarus after the Ryanair incident on Sunday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Monday.
“We are extremely concerned about this [incident] and the Secretary of State [Antony Blinken] has called for this to be fully investigated, and for a convening of a body called ICAO [International Civil Aeronautics Organization],” Buttigieg told CNN.
“That [safety of flights over Belarus] is exactly what needs to be assessed right now and we, both in terms of the international bodies we are part of and, as, as an administration with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] are looking at that.”
The Secretary pointed out that the safety of the flights in Belarusian airspace will be assessed independently from politics or what is going on “on the ground” since air safety is the only point of concern for the US.
On Sunday, the plane flying from Athens to Vilnius had to make an emergency landing in Minsk over a bomb threat, which later turned out to be false.
Belarus media said a MiG-29 escorted the jet to Minsk. The plane finally landed in Vilnius, its original destination, at 21:25 local time more than seven hours after its scheduled arrival.
Belta, the state-owned news agency in Belarus, said President Lukashenko had personally given the order for the plane to land in Minsk following the bomb alert and approved despatching the MiG-29 jet.
Lukashenka and his regime today showed again its contempt for international community and its citizens. Faking a bomb threat and sending MiG-29s to force @RyanAir to Minsk in order to arrest a @Nexta journalist on politically motivated charges is dangerous and abhorrent.
— Julie Fisher (@USAmbBelarus) May 23, 2021
Roman Protasevich, founder of a Telegram channel that Minsk designated as extremist, was aboard the plane and was detained during the stopover. He may face up to 15 years in prison for organizing mass unrest, among other things.
Earlier, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said on Monday that he had discussed the emergency landing of the Ryanair plane in Minsk and the subsequent detention of a journalist who was on board with Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya at the latter’s request.
“I spoke with @Tsihanouskaya of Poland’s determination to free Raman #Protasevich and condemning the act of state terrorism committed by the Belarusian authorities. I expressed solidarity with democratic Belarusians. The conversation was held at the request of Ms. Tsikhanouskaya,” Rau tweeted.
The Ryanair incident has sparked a strong backlash among the international community, with Western countries calling for an international probe into the emergency landing and considering the closure of the Belarusian airspace, along with introducing new sanctions against Minsk.
The airline’s CEO, Michael O’Leary, as well as Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, have already slammed the incident as a “state-sponsored hijacking.”