BRUSSELS/WARSAW (Reuters) -European Union ambassadors on Friday adopted a plan to ban Belarus carriers from flying over EU territory or landing in EU airports, three diplomats said, as the country’s exiled opposition leader called for more joint Western sanctions.
The EU decision is part of planned punitive measures against Belarus in response to Minsk’s scrambling a warplane to force the landing on May 23 of a Ryanair flight carrying an opposition journalist, who was then arrested.
The move is due to take effect at midnight Central European Time (2200 GMT), barring any last-minute objections by EU member states before a self-imposed deadline of 1400 CET, which are not expected, the diplomats said.
The EU also strongly recommends that EU airlines avoid flying over Belarus, but that does not amount to a legally binding ban. On Wednesday, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency issued a safety directive saying all EU aircraft should not fly over Belarus air space unless in an emergency.
Belarusian national carrier Belavia runs flights linking Belarus with some 20 airports in Europe including Helsinki, Amsterdam, Milan, Warsaw, Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich, Paris, Rome and Vienna.
Enforcement of the ban on Belarus carriers will fall to national EU governments, many of whom are also members of NATO, who can scramble fighter jets to protect their air space from unwelcome aircraft.
G7 FOCUS ON BELARUS
Speaking in Poland, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled Belarus for Lithuania following disputed presidential elections in August 2020, told Reuters that the Group of Seven rich countries should work together to impose new sanctions measures.
Belarus is expected to be discussed by leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States on June 11, but host Britain has not yet accepted a French call to invite the Belarusian opposition to the event.
“Pressure is more powerful when these countries are acting jointly and we are calling on the UK, the USA, the European Union and Ukraine. They have to act jointly so their voice will be more loud,” Tsikhanouskaya said.
EU governments, which described the Ryanair incident as state piracy, say they are looking at targeting sectors that play a central role in the Belarus economy, to inflict real punishment on President Alexander Lukashenko. They could include bond sales, the oil sector and potash, a big Belarusian export.
Before imposing such economic sanctions, the bloc is expected to agree by June 21 a smaller sanctions list on individuals and two entities as a quick, intermediary response, according to diplomats.
Tsikhanouskaya said the Belarusian opposition has become more concerned about security since the Ryanair incident, and that they would try to provide more security training to those in exile, especially for lesser-known activists.
“I think that we started to pay more attention to security but again this is the strategy of the regime, to threaten people, to make them uncomfortable,” she said.
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