UPDATED: EU to ban Belarus overflights from midnight

Reading Time: 3 minutes

European Union ambassadors on Friday adopted a plan to ban Belarus airlines from flying over EU territory or landing in EU airports, three diplomats said.

The decision is part of broader economic sanctions against Belarus in response to Minsk’s scrambling a warplane to force the landing of a Ryanair flight carrying an opposition journalist last month.

The decision is due to take effect at midnight Central European Time (CET), barring any last-minute objections by EU states before a self-imposed deadline of 1400 CET, which are not expected, the diplomats said.

The EU also strongly recommends that EU airlines avoid flying over Belarus, but that does not amount to a legally binding ban.

European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol has said around 400 civilian planes usually fly over Belarus every day, including 300 overflights of which about 100 are operated by EU or British carriers.

Lufthansa, SAS, Air France, LOT, Finnair and airBaltic are among carriers that have already announced they would stop flying over Belarus.

Belarusian national carrier Belavia runs flights linking Belarus with some 20 airports in Europe including Helsinki, Amsterdam, Milan, Warsaw, Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich, Paris, Rome and Vienna.

Enforcement of the ban on Belarus carriers will fall to national EU governments, many of whom are also members of NATO, who can scramble fighter jets to protect their airspace from unwelcome aircraft. 

In another development, the United States, Britain and the European Union should act jointly to put more pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his government, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told Reuters on Friday.

Tsikhanouskaya made the comments during a visit to Warsaw, Poland ahead of a summit of the G7 rich countries in Britain next week, at which she hopes issues raised by the Belarusian opposition will be addressed. Belarus has shot up the international agenda since it forced down a Ryanair flight over its air space and arrested an opposition journalist last month.

“Pressure is more powerful when these countries are acting jointly and we are calling on [the] UK, the USA, the European Union and Ukraine. They have to act jointly so their voice will be more loud,” Tsikhanouskaya said.

France has said it would like to invite the Belarusian opposition to the G7 summit, if host country Britain agrees. Britain has said there are no plans to invite further delegations, but that Belarus would be discussed. read more

Tsikhanouskaya said she had not been invited to the summit but expected Belarus would be discussed there.

Britain, the United States and the European Union all imposed bans and asset freezes on some Belarus officials after an election last year that the opposition says was rigged.

Since the Ryanair incident, Western countries have discouraged their airlines from flying over Belarus and said they will take other steps, such as barring Belarusian airlines and adding more names to their blacklists.

Some opposition figures have called for stronger measures that would have an impact on the overall Belarusian economy, such as restrictions on imports of minerals or oil from Belarus.

Photo: (FILE) A Belarusian airlines Belavia’s plane is seen on an airfield in the National airport Minsk outside Minsk, Belarus. EPA-EFE/TATYANA ZENKOVICH