Comment by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on the developments around the Ryanair flight in Minsk
We are closely following the developments regarding the emergency landing in Minsk of a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius on May 23.
According to official reports from Belarus, the landing took place in line with aviation security rules by decision of the crew commander due to the threat of a terrorist attack. The actions of the Belarusian aviation authorities were in compliance with international standards. A Belarusian Air Force fighter was sent to exercise control and render aid in the landing if necessary, especially considering that the aircraft was close to a nuclear power plant in Belarus.
We noted the information on the detention of passenger Roman Protasevich, one of the founders of the NEXTA telegram channel, by Belarusian special services. His name was on a list of persons involved in extremist activities. We consider this issue to be the domestic affair of Belarus. There are reports that in addition to Protasevich, one Russian citizen did not return to the plane, either. The Russian Embassy in Minsk is in contact with her relatives and the Belarusian authorities on this matter and is ready to provide her with consular aid.
We are surprised at the well-orchestrated reaction to these events by representatives of a number of Western countries and international organisations, including the EU, NATO and the OSCE. They demand the release of Protasevich and insist on the toughest additional sanctions against Belarus and Belavia Airlines. I would like to recall that they have responded very differently to similar events in other countries in the past. There are many examples.
In 2013, the Bolivian President’s plane was on a flight from Moscow when it was forced to land in Vienna by US special services that were hunting ex-CIA contractor Edward Snowden. In 2004, the United States forced the personal airplane of former First Deputy Finance Minister and later Senator Andrey Vavilov to land at Palm Beach Airport while on a Moscow-Barbados-Aspen flight. He was interrogated for several hours. In 2012, Turkey used fighter planes to force a Moscow-Damascus flight to land. It searched the plane and confiscated cargo.
Belarusian aircraft have also been forced to land on several occasions. In 2016, a Belavia airliner that departed Kiev, had to land 50 km before entering Belarusian airspace at the demand of a traffic controller who threatened to call in combat fighters if it failed to comply. He demanded the plane return to the point of departure for the removal of anti-Maidan activist Armen Martirosyan. In 2019, Ukrainian special services planned to seize the Wagner group following the same scenario – by forcing a Minsk-Istanbul flight into an emergency landing in Kiev. Luckily, this Ukrainian Security Services operation fell through.
Typically, these actions were carried out deliberately and in violation of international legal standards. There was almost no response from the West to the above and none of the guilty were ever punished.
We draw your attention to a statement by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesperson who expressed Minsk’s willingness to display maximum transparency on this issue, including the provision of materials and free access for international experts.
We urge our Western colleagues to refrain from double standards and to take measures to evaluate the situation realistically, without emotion, based on the available materials and in cooperation with the Belarusian authorities that are demonstrating openness and a willingness to cooperate.