EU leaders to consider sanctions against Belarus at Monday summit

The incident in which Belarus ordered an emergency landing of a Ryanair airliner diverted to the Belarusian capital Minsk in order to arrest opposition figures continues to provoke condemnation from the EU and the international community. The plane has now re-taken off and landed at Vilnius airport. EU leaders will consider sanctions against Belarus at a summit on Monday; NATO has called for an international investigation into the incident. The French Foreign Ministry urgently summoned the Belarusian ambassador.

AFP news agency, the EU Commissioner for Transport Valean ( Adina Valean) tweeted on Sunday that the Ryanair plane that made an emergency landing in the Belarusian capital Minsk had taken off from Minsk airport at 17:15 international standard time and was headed for Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. However, she did not mention the fate of opposition figure Protacevich, who was arrested by Belarusian authorities. Earlier, the European Union asked the Belarusian authorities to allow the plane to take off again “with all passengers”.

Belarusian President Lukashenko ordered a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania to make an emergency landing in the Belarusian capital Minsk, arresting Protacevich, a Belarusian opposition activist on board, prompting international condemnation.

The European Parliament said on Sunday that the leaders of the 27 EU countries will hold a summit on Monday, when they will discuss whether the EU sanctions Belarus.

The French Foreign Ministry summoned the Belarusian ambassador in Paris on Sunday to discuss the incident.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted Sunday that “Belarus’ order to divert the airliner was a serious and dangerous move” and that Belarus must ensure that the crew and all passengers are flown to their destination in Vilnius. He also called for an international investigation into the incident.

The airliner was almost in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, when it changed course after receiving reports of explosives on board. White Russia sent a warplane to escort it to the capital Minsk. Belarusian law enforcement officials took Protacevic, a 26-year-old man on board, into custody.

Lithuanian President Leonid Nausseida condemned the arrest of Protacevic by Belarus and demanded his immediate release. He also called on the international community to respond to the Belarusian regime’s threat to international civil aviation and to ensure that similar incidents do not recur. The president’s adviser also questioned the premeditation of the White Russian authorities, and said that the White Russian intelligence agencies knew who was on board. The adviser also said that Protacevich has been living in Vilnius, Lithuania, since November last year.

European Commission President Von der Leyen said Belarus’ behavior was totally unacceptable; British Foreign Secretary Raab warned Belarusian President Lukashenko that he would face “serious consequences”; Germany demanded an immediate explanation from Belarus; and Poland described it as an act of state terrorism that should be condemned.

Last year, Belarusian President Lukashenko was re-elected in an election that the opposition believed to be fraudulent, staging public demonstrations and putting Protacevich on the authorities’ wanted list.