EU To Seal Off Its Skies, Airports To Belarusian Carriers
By RFE/RL's Belarus Service June 04, 2021
MINSK -- The European Union has strengthened restrictive measures against Belarus by introducing a ban on the overflight of EU airspace and on access to EU airports by Belarusian carriers in response to Minsk's forced diversion of a passenger flight last month and the arrest of a dissent journalist.
The 27 member states will be "required to deny permission to land in, take off from, or overfly their territories to any aircraft operated by Belarusian air carriers," the EU said in a statement on June 4.
Enforcement of the EU ban, due to take effect at midnight Central European Time, will fall on member state governments. Several EU members have already implemented such a ban.
Belarusian national carrier Belavia runs flights between Belarus and about 20 airports in Europe.
The ban also includes marketing carriers, which sell seats on planes operated by another airline.
The EU announced a series of punitive measures following Belarus's scrambling of a fighter jet to force the landing on May 23 of a Ryanair flight carrying opposition activist and journalist Raman Pratasevich. He and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who was also on board the flight, were immediately arrested.
The plane diversion came amid a sweeping crackdown on the opposition by the regime of authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has run Belarus since 1994.
The country has seen unprecedented pro-democracy protests following a disputed August 2020 presidential election that the opposition says was rigged and many Western states have refused to acknowledge.
Describing the May 23 incident as an affront to both air safety and freedom of the press, EU member states have called on the European Council to adopt sanctions against Belarusian individuals and entities, as well as targeted economic sanctions.
The bloc has also recommended all EU-based carriers avoid flying over Belarus.
While condemning Minsk's behavior, a leading airline association criticized the EU decision, saying airlines should be able to decide whether to use Belarusian airspace after conducting risk assessments.
"Two wrongs do not make a right. Politics should never interfere with the safe operation of aircraft and politicians should never use aviation safety as a cover to pursue political or diplomatic agendas," Willie Walsh, director-general of the International Air Transport Association, said in a statement.
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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