Belarus Forces Airliner Carrying Dissident To Divert


A Belarus air force MiG-29 escorted a Ryanair Boeing 737 to Minsk where one of the current president’s leading critics was arrested. Ryanair said the crew of its scheduled flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, was contacted by Belarus authorities warning of a “potential security threat on board” and ordered to divert to Minsk. The flight was in Belarus airspace at the time. The fighter was presumably scrambled to ensure compliance. When it landed, Raman Pratasevich, a former TV journalist who has led opposition to current President Alexander Lukashenko, was arrested and detained. Lukashenko’s controversial reelection to a sixth term in office last year resulted in nationwide protests and a crackdown against the regime’s opponents. Like thousands of other dissidents, Pratasevich fled to Lithuania.

He was among 171 passengers on the Ryanair flight and the diversion prompted an angry response from Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauséda, who demanded Pratasevich’s immediate release. The aircraft and its other occupants underwent security checks and were released about five hours after landing to continue to Vilnius. Belarus has faced sanctions from the U.S. and E.U. for its crackdown on political opponents.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Can I assume The airline and passengers were compensated? Can I assume that the fake “security threat” on an airliner will put someone in jail?

    • “Compensated”? This is Ryanair. They were probably charged extra for the Mig escort and additional take off and landing…

    • >Can I assume The airline and passengers were compensated?
      Don’t be silly. That’s not how authoritarian regimes work.

      Will Ryan Air fly around Belarus in the future or have they learned their lesson?

  2. I assume Belarus collects overflight fees. I”d like to see the airlines start avoiding their airspace and governments deny any Belarus based airlines from operating into their countries.

  3. Would that nutcase president have ordered a shootdown if RyanAir had not complied? Wow!

  4. Suspicious in the circumstances, needs independent investigation – can ICAO organize that? If the regime has sense it will ask for an independent investigation. (Yah, I know, …..)

  5. What is to investigate? ICAO should recommend that all companies cease flights to and from Belarus and that surrounding ATC facilities deny entry from Belarus into their airspace. One way to do that would be to AMEND THE FILED ROUTE of (Belarus) departing flights, which ATC receives electronically and routinely, to terminate at the last fix inside Belarus.

  6. Dear President Lukashenko,
    We disapprove of your actions. Strong note follows.
    The World

    There. That’s taken care of.

  7. I am often skeptical of the press, but I can’t figure out how this might need investigation unless the whole thing is made up. It’s an act of war to start. Then you get to the civil rights abuses. Shouldn’t take too much investigation unless Belarus denies it happened.

    I think the plan might ought to be to wait until as many of Belarus’s own aircraft are outside their borders as possible and then simply seize them all. Send the Belarusians back to the border to walk across.

    THEN, you start negotiations.

  8. Are we shocked and outraged that a government would use the air traffic control system to interfere with the free movement of international flights as a way of capturing a dissident? Yes? Good. Then let’s recall the time when the United States government apparently enlisted the air traffic control systems of France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, to block an official flight of the president of Bolivia, in an attempt to capture Edward Snowden. Source: Wikipedia, “Evo Morales grounding incident”. Date: 1 July 2013.

    (Actual link omitted so as not to distress AvWeb’s anti-spam filters.)

    • I wouldn’t say they were the same thing. It was a private jet, not a commercial flight, and the plane was already on the ground, it was not intercepted. It just wasn’t allowed to fly through some NATO countries airspace while heading to Bolivia. Countries have used overflight rights for political purposes for a long time. That is a lot different from what Belarus did.

  9. Blocking airspace to a private jet is nowhere near the same. You are basically equivocating kidnapping someone and bringing them into your house with telling them they cannot cross your property.

    Hassling foreign leaders who aren’t monsters isn’t a good policy though. Not sure where Morales falls in the pecking order of South American leaders.