Head of think-tank the Tallinn-based International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS) Indrek Kannik says Sunday's hijacking of a civilian airliner by Belarusian authorities constitutes state terrorism and is likely to be followed by serious sanctions.
Appearing on ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade" Monday, Kannik said: "The fact that a plane flying from one country to another is taken down in a third country, in order to apprehend one of its opposition figures there, via the help of fighter jets and a fake bomb threat, has no precedent in my memory," Kannik commented.
"This is clearly a hijacking of an aircraft, which can be considered terrorism and, in this case, state terrorism, as it was ordered by the Belarussian authorities," he added.
It must also be taken into account that had the airliner, operated by Ryanair and originally destined for Vilnius, Lithuania, having flown from Greece, not complied with the order to land in Minsk, this could have had very serious consequences, since the Belarusian MiG 29 fighter jet which intercepted the plane would according to some reports have shot it down.
There will likely be serious sanctions forthcoming from the west, Kannik added, one of which will concern Belarus' airspace.
"There has been talk of substantially blocking Belarusian airspace, at least for planes flying from the EU, to avoid flying through Belarusian airspace. This would likewise take a lot of money away from Belarus, since overflight charges are significant. And another measure could be prohibiting Belarusian airline Belavia from flying to EU countries.
Kannik also noted that Lukashenko's inner circle have been doing well in their business activities in Europe and have not been obstructed in that up until now. Sanctions here would harm both Lukashenko's wallet and the Belarusian national economy as a whole, he said.
Belarus diverted the commercial Ryanair flight en route to Vilnius from Greece and which had 171 passengers on board before it could leave Belarusian airspace Sunday. It was initially reported a bomb threat had been made but the Belarusian authorities found no trace of explosives when the plane was searched, while the plane was escorted to Minsk airport by a Belarusian air force jet.
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 prime minister Kaja Kallas said Monday that the EU's joint response to the incident was to be "quick and strong", while President Kersti Kaljulaid said that closing Belarus airspace to the west and issuing sanctions at EU level should be the next steps.
Editor: Andrew Whyte