The diversion of an international flight to arrest a dissident challenges the world to come up with an adequate response to what appears to be a brazen act of impunity. The facts thus far are that on May 23, the Belarus authorities used a bomb threat and a fighter jet to divert a Ryanair flight carrying 126 passengers from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk instead. Police then detained Mr Roman Protasevich, 26, a dissident and the founder of a media channel that helped coordinate protests against President Alexander Lukashenko. No evidence of explosives was found on board. German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the Belarusian explanation for the forced landing as “completely implausible”. The interception was condemned by the European Union and the United States as a hijacking.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is investigating if there was contravention of treaties that secure air travel, including of provisions against knowingly communicating false information in a way that endangers safety. An interim report is expected by June 25, but ICAO has little scope to punish nations other than by suspending voting rights. The EU has, meanwhile, banned Belarus’ state airline from its airports and asked EU-based airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace. As this is a key corridor for passage to Western Europe, many Asian carriers, including Singapore Airlines, have rerouted flights out of safety concerns. The EU is considering more sanctions against regime-linked figures, the financial sector and key industries. The US has imposed sanctions against nine Belarus state firms. But these may not be effective because Belarus is not integrated with Western economies.