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EU mulls fresh sanctions on Belarus as more planes canceled
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 27 - 05 - 2021

The European Union is mulling fresh sanctions against Belarus in the wake of what EU leaders have described as the state-sanctioned hijacking of a passenger flight over Belarus last Sunday.
The EU has already applied a ban on Belarus-registered carriers flying to and from European airports and urged European airlines to avoid Belarus airspace. The Belarus national carrier Belavia has canceled flights to multiple destinations as a result of the EU's actions, which were introduced Monday.
A Ryanair flight traveling from Athens to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius was instructed to land in Minsk as it overflew Belarus on Sunday. When it landed opposition activist Roman Protasevich and his Russian companion Sofia Sapega, who were on the flight, were both detained.
EU foreign ministers were due to begin discussing which parts of the Belarus economy to hit with sanctions on Thursday, with Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn suggesting the country's potash exports could be targeted, Reuters reports.
Belarus is the world's second-largest producer of potash, which is commonly used as fertilizer, according to the US Geological Survey.
Ahead of the meeting in Portugal, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas threatened a spiral of economic sanctions on the eastern European nation, saying the EU expects more than 400 political prisoners in Belarus to be freed.
''It is clear that we will not be satisfied with small sanctions steps, but that we aim to target the economic structure and financial transactions in Belarus significantly with sanctions," Maas told journalists in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon.
He went on to say if Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko "does not relent this will only be the start of further sanction rounds."
''It is important to discuss this topic with Russia as we all know that without Russia and without the Russian support Lukashenko has no future in Belarus,'' Maas added.
Lukashenko remained defiant on Wednesday, telling lawmakers in Belarus parliament that the diversion of the Ryanair flight on Sunday was legal, and the ensuing criticism and sanctions on the country was a form of modern hybrid warfare.
"The West has moved from (organizing) revolts to strangling the country," he said, while sticking to claims that the flight was diverted because of a bomb threat, saying the threat had originated in Switzerland.
Swiss authorities said they had no knowledge of a bomb threat on the Ryanair flight, from Athens to Vilnius, nor did they alert Belarusian authorities about it.
More cancellations
Belavia canceled flights to eight countries, it said in a statement. Flights to a number of destinations, including Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona and the Russian city of Kaliningrad, would be canceled until October 30 due to several countries imposing flight bans on it, Belavia said.
Meanwhile, an Air France flight between Paris and Moscow was canceled on Wednesday as it required "a new authorization from the Russian authorities to enter their territory" in order to bypass Belarusian airspace, the airline said in a statement.
"Consequently, the return flight AF1155 is also canceled," the airline said, adding that customers have been offered a postponement or refunds.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov suggested to reporters on Wednesday that the Russian government believed Belarusian officials' reasoning for instructing the Ryanair flight to land in Minsk.
When asked whether the Kremlin has received an appeal from Sapega's mother for help, Peskov said he was unaware of one.
"I only know that it was announced in the media. Of course, all consular protection, legal protection will be provided for a Russian citizen. Our foreign ministry said this," he said.
"The Belarusian side said that charges were brought against her in connection with, the participation in, illegal actions and so on. In addition, we saw her confessions. But in any case, she has the right to a defense, and of course, all the necessary assistance will be provided to ensure her legal protection."
Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovksya said on Wednesday that Lukashenko was turning Belarus into the North Korea of Europe and predicted more protests against his long rule this summer. She also criticized the EU position on Belarus, saying its previous "wait and see" strategy "towards the Belarusian regime doesn't work. The EU approach of gradually elevated pressure on Lukashenko's regime hasn't managed to change his behavior and only led to a growing sense of impunity and massive repressions."
Lukashenko has led Belarus since 1994 and took his sixth consecutive term last year after an election period marred by a brutal crackdown on mass protests against the leader. Belarusian authorities detained political opposition figures, protesters and activists. — CNN

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