Planes Rerouted, Bonds Drop After Airport Arrest: Belarus Update

Flights are being re-directed to avoid Belarusian airspace after the government in Minsk forced a Ryanair Holdings Plc plane to land and arrested a journalist on board.

The European Union will consider further sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko’s administration when its leaders meet for dinner in Brussels on Monday night for the start of a two-day summit.

Potential measures could include suspending flights over Belarus, banning the country’s national airline from landing at EU airports and blocking ground transit into the EU from Belarus, according to a person familiar with summit preparations.

The EU was already working on an additional package of sanctions over Belarus’s disputed election last year and will now look at increasing the pressure on .

  • Ryanair jet diverted to Minsk under escort from Mig-29 fighter jet
  • Belarusian journalist removed from plane in Belarusian capital
  • U.S., EU and U.K. leaders condemn actions by authorities in Belarus
  • Russia defends its closest ally

All times are Central European Time.

Russia Calls Western Reaction ‘Shocking’ (11:15 a.m.)

Western countries are showing double standards, according to Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “It’s shocking that the West is calling the incident in Belarus’s airspace ‘shocking,’” she wrote in a Facebook post.

Zakharova cited past examples of what she said were western governments forcing planes to land, such as a 2013 episode when the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales had to land in Austria as the U.S. searched for Edward Snowden, as evidence that the U.S. and its allies use the same tactics.

U.K. Joins Calls for Sanctions (10:40 a.m.)

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added to the voices calling for further sanctions against Belarus and the immediate release of Protasevich. In a statement, Raab condemned the arrest, adding “Mr Lukashenko must be held to account for his outlandish actions.”

Russian Senator Defends Belarus (10:35 a.m.)

“Formally, there was a bomb threat, so everything was done properly,” Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy chairman of the International Affairs committee in the upper house of parliament, said in a phone interview Monday. “I don’t see anything unusual or unacceptable in the actions of the Belarusian authorities.”

The arrest of Raman Pratasevich, the journalist, was justified, he said. “This person was sitting abroad and criticizing his homeland,” he said. “It’s a warning to Tsikhanouskaya,” he said, referring to exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

EU Mulls Sanction Options (10:25 a.m.)

Of the possible options for EU action, sanctions against individuals and entities would likely be the simplest, according to a senior official close to the European talks.

Other options, such as the suspension all flights by EU airlines over Belarus and the suspension of all transit — including ground travel — between Belarus and the EU, would trigger increased costs for European companies, the official said.

‘State-Sponsored Hijacking’ (10:10 a.m.)

“This was a case of state-sponsored hijacking,” Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said in comments broadcast by RTE Radio. The airline has to do a “detailed debrief today with the NATO and EU authorities” after the incident, which he said saw passengers and crew held under armed guard.

It appears the intent of Belarusian authorities was to remove a journalist and his traveling companion, O’Leary said. “We believe there was also some KGB agents offloaded off the aircraft as well,” he said.

Irish Minister Calls for Tough EU Response (10:00 a.m.)

“This was effectively aviation piracy, state sponsored,” Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney told RTE Radio. The EU’s response “has to be clear, tough, and needs to happen quickly,” he said.

Belarus’s Bonds Tumble (9:30 a.m.)

Worries over potential sanctions are scaring away bond investors. Belarus’s dollar bonds due 2031 tanked early on Monday, pushing yields up 23 basis points to a one-month high of 7.48%. The bonds traded at a yield of above 8% in August after authorities cracked down on protesters following Lukashenko’s claim to a landslide election victory.

Flights Avoid Belarus (9:25 a.m.)

Wizz Air Holdings Plc, Eastern Europe’s biggest discount carrier, said it has rerouted a service from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to Tallinn in Estonia to avoid Belarusian airspace. A spokesman said in an email that the Budapest-based company is “continuously monitoring and evaluating the situation.”

Latvia’s national carrier Airbaltic has decided to avoid Belarusian air space “for the time being,” Latvian Transport Minister Talis Linkaits said in interview with Latvijas Radio.

Poland to Call for More Sanctions Against Lukashenko (9:22 a.m.)

Belarus’s neighbor, Poland, will propose new sanctions against Lukashenko’s government at Monday’s EU meeting, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski. He declined to specify the type of measures Warsaw will seek, saying the government wants to consult with EU partners first.

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