2021-05-23 by W.M.
Belarus Forces Down Ryanair Flight Carrying Journalist
Both Lithuania and Greece are members of the European Union. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the E.U.’s executive body, called the situation “utterly unacceptable.”
The Greek Foreign Ministry called it a “state hijacking.”
Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said on Twitter, “The forced landing of a commercial plane to detain a journalist is an unprecedented, shocking act.” Calling for stepped-up pressure on Belarus, he said, “Enough is enough.”
The action also drew fierce criticism from Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nauseda, who called it “abhorrent” in his Twitter account and demanded that the Belarusian authorities release Mr. Protasevich.
Even as European officials threatened consequences for Belarus, it was not immediately clear what those consequences could be. The bloc already imposed sanctions last year against leading Minsk officials — including Mr. Lukashenko himself — for “violent repression and intimidation of peaceful demonstrators, opposition members and journalists.”
On Sunday, Mr. Nauseda, the Lithuanian president, called for Belarus’s airspace to be declared unsafe and for Belarusian aircraft not to be accepted at E.U. airports.
In Russia — where the state media described last year’s uprising against Mr. Lukashenko as a Western plot — the arrest met with approval among Mr. Putin’s supporters. Margarita Simonyan, editor of the pro-Kremlin RT television network, wrote on Twitter that Mr. Lukashenko “played it beautifully.” And Vyacheslav Lysakov, a member of Parliament allied with Mr. Putin, described Mr. Protasevich’s arrest as a “brilliant special operation.”
The Belarusian authorities said they had ordered the plane to land after receiving information about a bomb threat even though Vilnius, the plane’s destination, was much closer than Minsk when it turned around. The country’s Defense Ministry said in another statement that the country’s air defense forces were put on high alert.