Russia refuses to allow European planes to land in Moscow

Decision is ‘absolutely incomprehensible to us’, says Austria

Rory Sullivan
Friday 28 May 2021 03:30
A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich, lands at Vilnius Airport
A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich, lands at Vilnius Airport

Russia has refused to let two European commercial aircraft land in Moscow in what appears to be retaliation for a European ban on its own aeroplanes entering Belarusian airspace.

An Austrian Airlines plane from Vienna and an Air France flight from Paris were cancelled on Thursday because the Russian authorities did not grant them permission to fly around Belarus en route.

A Paris-Moscow Air France flight could not take off on Wednesday for the same reason.

The flights needed to avoid Belarusian airspace to comply with an EU order, which came in response to the “hijacking” of a passenger plane by the country’s autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday.

The Ryanair jet, which was flying from Athens to Vilnius, was forced to land in Minsk after it received reports of a bomb threat, which turned out to be false.

The Lukashenko regime had ordered a MiG-29 fighter plane to escort the passenger plane to ground, as it wanted to arrest two people on board.

Roman Pratasevich, who co-founded Nexta, a platform used by the opposition during last year’s protests, and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega, were subsequently detained.

As well as denouncing the incident and calling for their release, the EU banned Belarusian carriers from landing in European airports and advised European carriers to not fly over the country.

Russia, it seems, started banning European flights in a show of solidarity with the former Soviet Union state.

Austria’s foreign ministry said the Russian reaction “is absolutely incomprehensible to us”, adding that it was a disproportionate response to the actions taken against Sunday’s “brutal act of air piracy”.

This comes as EU leaders met in Lisbon on Thursday to discuss bringing tougher punishments against Belarus. These are thought to include measures targeting its lucrative potash industry.

Speaking about Sunday’s “hijacking”, Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn said: “These are bandit tricks that are being carried out here. That can’t be tolerated by the European Union.”

The EU however does not want to push Belarus further into Vladimir Putin’s arms, something harsh penalties could inadvertently do.

Additional reporting from agencies

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