- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Major airlines are starting to avoid Belarus after President Alexander Lukashenko diverted a commercial airliner from Lithuania to his capital of Minsk so he could detain an opposition journalist on board.

Taking their cue from the European Union, which pledged economic sanctions on Belarus and told airlines to avoid the Eastern European nation, Lufthansa and Air France-KLM told CNN they would avoid its airspace for now, while Scandinavian Airlines is rerouting its flights between Kyiv and Oslo.

Airlines from Baltic States near Belarus are following suit, and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the government is examining whether flying over the country is safe.

Perhaps it is no surprise that Ryanair is avoiding Belarus. The Irish carrier’s plane was rerouted from its path to Vilnius over the weekend because Mr. Lukashenko sent a fighter jet to direct it to Minsk.

Agents detained Raman Pratasevich, who is known in the region as a founder of a messaging app channel that has been a key information conduit for opponents of Mr. Lukashenko — an embattled leader often referred to as Europe’s “last dictator.”

A brief video clip of Mr. Pratasevich was shown on Belarusian state television Monday night, a day after he was removed from the Ryanair flight.

Seated at a table, Mr. Pratasevich said he was in good health and his treatment in custody was “maximally correct and according to law.” 

President Biden late Monday said the U.S. condemns “in the strongest possible terms” the diversion of a Ryanair flight Mr. Pratasevich’s arrest.

“I welcome the news that the European Union has called for targeted economic sanctions and other measures, and have asked my team to develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible, in close coordination with the European Union, other allies and partners, and international organizations,” Mr. Biden said.

The president said the “outrageous incident” and a videotaped message from Mr. Pratasevich, apparently made under duress, amounted to “shameful assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press.”

• David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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