Russia blocks 2 European airlines over plane in Belarus
May 27, 2021, 3:59 PM
Russia is upping the ante on European air wars. At least two European airlines were forced to cancel flights to Russia on Thursday after being denied permission to enter Russian airspace, as they sought to redirect to avoid flying over Belarus . Airlines are bypassing Belarus after a Ryanair flight was essentially hijacked and forced to land in Minsk on Sunday in a ploy to arrest an opposition journalist who was on board.
The European Union’s Aviation Safety Agency on Wednesday urged European carriers to avoid Belarusian airspace for safety reasons. A Belarusian The fighter plane was scrambled to accompany Ryanair’s flight to Minsk after pilots were falsely warned by Belarusian air traffic controllers that there was a bomb on board.
Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich, who has lived in exile since 2019, was removed from the flight following the emergency landing in the Belarusian capital and arrested alongside his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, as they flew from ‘Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania.
Air France and Austrian Airlines said Russia has yet to approve their requests to change their flight routes in Russian airspace. A spokesperson for Austrian Airlines said a flight was canceled on Thursday, but it was not clear whether permission would be granted to prevent future flights from being disrupted. “It is not yet possible to say when a decision will be made for the next flight. Currently, only today’s connection had to be canceled, ”they said.
In a statement, Air France said that a Paris-Moscow flight was canceled Thursday for “operational reasons linked to bypassing Belarusian airspace requiring a new authorization from the Russian authorities”. An Air France flight to Russia was also canceled on Wednesday.
Any prolonged disruption is likely to escalate tensions between Moscow and the West and test the EU’s ability to stand united in the face of Russian pressure.
“It’s classic Russia looking to create wedges,” said Tim Morrison, who was previously a high-level adviser on Russia and Europe to former President Donald Trump’s National Security Council.
Morrison said he did not see it by accident that airlines from Austria and France had been hit, describing them as the “more pro-Russian” countries in Europe that might be more likely to break ranks. The leaders of the two countries pushed for improved relations between the EU and Russia.
Several European airlines, including Lufthansa, Iberia and KLM, have announced that they will no longer fly over Belarusian airspace, but it is not known whether they will also be affected. Flight tracks show that a British Airways flight successfully flew from London to Moscow on Wednesday evening, bypassing Belarusian airspace, while Polish airline LOT was traveling. without interruption from Warsaw to Moscow on Thursday evening. At the time of publication, a KLM flight out of Amsterdam was not reporting any expected delay on its next flight to Moscow.
Maxim Pyadushkin, managing director of the Russian magazine Air transport observer, said he believed the disruption was due to airlines having to agree on a new entry point into Russian airspace if they are to avoid Belarus. “I hope this is a technical issue that can be resolved very quickly,” he said.. “I don’t think Russia has any reason to argue with the EU over Belarusian airspace.”
The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Belarus has long been a close but problematic Russian ally. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko is due to travel to Russia on Friday for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The EU said on Monday it would prepare new economic sanctions following Belarus’ unprecedented move to block a civilian flight in pursuit of a critic of the government.
Protasevich is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Nexta on the encrypted social network app Telegram, which played a key role in coordinating anti-government protests last August following the rigged Belarusian presidential elections. Last year Belarusian security services labeled Protasevich a terrorist and he faces the death penalty if convicted of terrorism.