F.Since Saturday morning, airlines from the former Soviet Republic of Belarus are no longer allowed to fly into EU airspace and are therefore no longer allowed to take off or land at airports in EU countries. With the punitive measure that came into force at midnight, the EU is responding to the fact that around two weeks ago the Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair passenger plane on its way from Athens to Vilnius to make a stopover in Minsk and arrested a government critic and his girlfriend who were on board. The blogger Roman Protassewitsch and his partner Sofia Sapega have been in custody since then.
The EU sanctions decision taken on Friday stated that the incident highlighted the unreliability of the Belarusian aviation authorities and represented a further step in the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition in Belarus. With reference to a bomb threat alleged by Belarus against the Ryanair plane there is talk of falsified evidence.
Only via detours to Belarus
For travelers, the decision means that in future they will probably only be able to fly via detours from the EU to Belarus or from Belarus to the EU. Even before the sanction was passed, all airlines based in the EU were asked to avoid flights into Belarus’ airspace.
As a result of the announced punitive measures, the Belarusian state airline Belavia announced on May 27 that it would suspend all flights to Germany, Poland, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium for the time being. In Germany, for example, connections to Frankfurt, Berlin, Hanover and Munich were affected.
EU Council President Charles Michel announced after the sanctions decision on Friday that further punitive measures would follow quickly. He was alluding to the fact that after an agreement between the heads of state and government on May 24th, economic sanctions and punitive measures against people and institutions are being prepared.
According to Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD), the potash and phosphate industries, for example, could be targeted in the economic sanctions. Other EU politicians also brought manufacturers of oil products into play. Both are areas in which there are strong Belarusian state companies. There is consensus in the EU that sectors or companies should be selected with which the government is hit as hard as possible and the population as little as possible.
Apparently forced confession
In the ex-Soviet republic of Belarus there have been protests against the ruler Alexandr Lukashenko, who has ruled for almost 27 years, since the presidential election on August 9th last year. Triggers are allegations of falsifying the election, after which Lukashenko had been declared the winner with 80.1 percent of the votes. Security forces often use violence against demonstrators. The protests have already resulted in several deaths, hundreds of injuries and thousands of arrests.
There are therefore great concerns in the EU about the fate of the blogger who was arrested after the forced landing. Protassevich recently admitted in an apparently forced confession that he had organized mass protests against Lukashenko. His mother said the statements on state television were the result of torture.