Kaljulaid: EU citizens can no longer consider Belarus a safe space

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President Kersti Kaljulaid speaking to the presidents of Latvia and Lithuania. Source: Mattias Tammet/Office of the President of the Republic

The presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are calling for Minsk to release those "abducted" from a Ryanair passenger flight which was diverted on Sunday, the closure of the Belarusian airspace and effective EU sanctions.

Following yesterday's hijacking incident, President Kersti Kaljulaid held a video meeting with the Latvian and Lithuanian heads of state Egils Levits and Gitanas Nauseda on Monday morning to discuss joint steps to be taken in order to place pressure on Belarus within the framework of both the European Union and the United Nations.

All three presidents are calling for those abducted to be released, for the closure of Belarusian airspace and for effective sanctions to be implemented at the European Union level.

"An undisguised act of terrorism perpetrated by the state – a hijacking – is a new weapon in the arsenal of even the most seasoned dictator," Kaljulaid said after the meeting.

"It is time for the rest of the world to stop treating the Belarusian regime with kid gloves. We must utilize all of the peaceful means at our disposal to place pressure on it. Yesterday's incident, which placed the lives of 171 passengers in danger and which resulted in at least two individuals being abducted from the aircraft, must not go unpunished."

She added: "Unfortunately, citizens of the European Union can no longer consider Belarus a safe space, be it on the ground or in the air.

"For this reason, I furthermore deem it sensible to terminate any and all transit via Belarus. Like any sanctions, this will inevitably have some impact on EU Member States, on our companies and our people, but we cannot put people's lives at risk. Yesterday showed us that that risk is real."

Belarus diverted the commercial Ryanair flight, which had 171 passengers on board, which was flying between Greece and Vilnius. Before it could leave Belarusian airspace it was escorted to Minsk Airport by military aircraft. It was initially reported a bomb threat had been made but the Belarusian authorities found no trace of explosives when the plane was searched.

Belarusian opposition activist, blogger and founder of the Nexta Telegram channel Roman Protasevich was detained after the plane landed in Minsk, alongside his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen and student of the Vilnius-based European Humanities University (EHU).

The international community has condemned the action with the head of Ryanair calling it "hijacking and piracy".  

Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) said Estonia, as an elected member of the UN Security Council, has started discussions to raise the issue at the council.

The Ryanair FR4978 flight's path to Minsk Airport. Source: Flightradar.

Editor's note: This article was updated to add comments from President Kersti Kaljulaid.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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