Russia Rejects Western Outrage at Plane Arrest: Belarus Update

by BLOOMBERG

Russia dismissed European Union and U.S. outrage at the forced landing of a Ryanair Holdings Plc plane in Minsk by Belarusian authorities who arrested a journalist on board.

The European Union will consider further sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko’s administration when its leaders meet for dinner in Brussels on Monday night for the start of a two-day summit.

The EU was already working on an additional package of sanctions over a disputed election last year and will now look at increasing the pressure on Belarus. Potential measures could include suspending flights over Belarus, banning the country’s national airline from landing at EU airports and blocking ground transit into the EU from Belarus, according to a person familiar with summit preparations.

For now, even as Ryanair calls the interception an “act of aviation piracy,” the Irish carrier — like many other airlines — is still overflying Belarus airspace.

Key Developments:

  • Ryanair jet diverted to Minsk under escort from Mig-29 fighter jet
  • Belarusian journalist removed from plane in Belarusian capital
  • U.S., EU and U.K. leaders condemn actions by authorities in Belarus
  • Russia defends Belarus, its closest ally
  • Flights over Belarus airspace continue

All times are Central European Time.

French Says All Options Being Considered (13:20 p.m.)

“Nothing is off the table” a French diplomat told journalists when asked about possible punitive measures against Belarus.

In addition to sanctions targeting Belarusian officials and companies, the EU is mulling the suspension of overflights of European airlines over Belarus, a landing ban for flag carrier Belavia in European airports, and the suspension of transits (including land) from Belarus to the EU, the French diplomat added, asking not to be named in line with policy.

Ryanair Is Flying Over Belarus Today (1:10 p.m.)

Flight FR3340 from Paphos, Cyprus, is scheduled to land at Talinn, Estonia, at 2:30 p.m. local time. The route takes the plane directly across Belarus territory, highlighting the mixed messaging coming out of Europe in response to Sunday’s incident.

The airspace over Belarus is part of a major route for flights between Asia and Europe, with some carriers including Deutsche Lufthansa AG and cargo hauler FedEx Corp. continuing to fly over the country on Monday. Airlines have routed traffic over Belarus to avoid the restive eastern Ukraine region that’s been off-limits since a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 jet was shot down there in 2014, killing 298 people.

A Ryanair flight from Paphos, Cyprus to Tallinn, Estonia flew over Belarus on Monday

 

Poland Orders Probe (12:20 p.m.)

Poland’s state prosecutor said it has ordered an investigation into the landing because the Ryanair jet was registered in Poland and therefore falls under Polish jurisdiction.

Estonia to Raise Issue at UN Security Council (12:00 p.m.)

Estonia plans to raise the Belarus issue at the Security Council and has already started consultations to have a discussion, public broadcaster ERR cited the country’s foreign minister, Eva-Maria Liimets, as saying.

Ryanair Cooperating with EU, NATO (11:50 a.m.)

The diversion of the Ryanair plane to Minsk on Sunday was an “act of aviation piracy,” the airline said in a statement today.

Ryanair said it was “fully cooperating” with the EU safety and security agencies as well as NATO, and wouldn’t comment further due to security reasons.

Kremlin Says U.S.-Russia Summit Plans Not Affected (11:45 a.m.)

Tensions between Moscow’s closest ally and the West over Minsk’s forcing of a Ryanair jet to land won’t affect Russia’s efforts to arrange a summit meeting between President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. Counterpart, Joe Biden, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“I wouldn’t combine all this into a single system,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call. “These are different things, after all.”

Peskov declined to comment on the details of the case, including on whether Belarus gave Russia advance warning of its decision to force the plane to land or whether Moscow’s agents were involved. “Our special services are in the closest possible contact,” he said, adding that he doesn’t have detailed information about the Ryanair jet.

Russia Calls Western Reaction ‘Shocking’ (11:15 a.m.)

Western countries are showing double standards, according to Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “It’s shocking that the West is calling the incident in Belarus’s airspace ‘shocking,’” she wrote in a Facebook post.

Zakharova cited past examples of what she said were western governments forcing planes to land, such as a 2013 episode when the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales had to land in Austria as the U.S. searched for Edward Snowden, as evidence that the U.S. and its allies use the same tactics.

U.K. Joins Calls for Sanctions (10:40 a.m.)

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added to the voices calling for further sanctions against Belarus and the immediate release of Protasevich. In a statement, Raab condemned the arrest, adding “Mr Lukashenko must be held to account for his outlandish actions.”

Russian Senator Defends Belarus (10:35 a.m.)

“Formally, there was a bomb threat, so everything was done properly,” Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy chairman of the International Affairs committee in the upper house of parliament, said in a phone interview Monday. “I don’t see anything unusual or unacceptable in the actions of the Belarusian authorities.”

The arrest of Raman Pratasevich, the journalist, was justified, he said. “This person was sitting abroad and criticizing his homeland,” he said. “It’s a warning to Tsikhanouskaya,” he said, referring to exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

EU Mulls Sanction Options (10:25 a.m.)

Of the possible options for EU action, sanctions against individuals and entities would likely be the simplest, according to a senior official close to the European talks.

Other options, such as the suspension all flights by EU airlines over Belarus and the suspension of all transit — including ground travel — between Belarus and the EU, would trigger increased costs for European companies, the official said.

‘State-Sponsored Hijacking’ (10:10 a.m.)

“This was a case of state-sponsored hijacking,” Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said in comments broadcast by RTE Radio. The airline has to do a “detailed debrief today with the NATO and EU authorities” after the incident, which he said saw passengers and crew held under armed guard.

It appears the intent of Belarusian authorities was to remove a journalist and his traveling companion, O’Leary said. “We believe there was also some KGB agents offloaded off the aircraft as well,” he said.

Irish Minister Calls for Tough EU Response (10:00 a.m.)

“This was effectively aviation piracy, state sponsored,” Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney told RTE Radio. The EU’s response “has to be clear, tough, and needs to happen quickly,” he said.

Belarus’s Bonds Tumble (9:30 a.m.)

Worries over potential sanctions are scaring away bond investors. Belarus’s dollar bonds due 2031 tanked early on Monday, pushing yields up 23 basis points to a one-month high of 7.48%. The bonds traded at a yield of above 8% in August after authorities cracked down on protesters following Lukashenko’s claim to a landslide election victory.

Flights Avoid Belarus (9:25 a.m.)

Wizz Air Holdings Plc, Eastern Europe’s biggest discount carrier, said it has rerouted a service from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to Tallinn in Estonia to avoid Belarusian airspace. A spokesman said in an email that the Budapest-based company is “continuously monitoring and evaluating the situation.”

Latvia’s national carrier Airbaltic has decided to avoid Belarusian air space “for the time being,” Latvian Transport Minister Talis Linkaits said in interview with Latvijas Radio.

Poland to Call for More Sanctions Against Lukashenko (9:22 a.m.)

Belarus’s neighbor, Poland, will propose new sanctions against Lukashenko’s government at Monday’s EU meeting, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski. He declined to specify the type of measures Warsaw will seek, saying the government wants to consult with EU partners first.