Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis condemned the forced landing of a passenger jet on Sunday and the arrest of a dissident journalist, calling on the EU to take specific action and “clear and severe consequences” against Belarus.
Eleven Greeks were among the 171 passengers on board the Ryanair flight FR 4978 out of Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, when it was diverted by Belarussian authorities and forced to land in Minsk. Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega were then arrested.
“European leaders must agree at the [EU] summit that there will be clear and severe consequences that will leave no room for Belarus to question our unity and determination,” said Mitsotakis in an interview with the Financial Times.
Mitsotakis described the act as “unacceptable aggression”, adding that the EU’s failure to show a united front on foreign affairs should not be repeated.
“The forcible grounding of a commercial passenger aircraft in order to illegally detain a political opponent and journalist is utterly reprehensible and an unacceptable act of aggression that cannot be allowed to stand,” he said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also called for “consequences” as EU leaders are considering new sanctions against Belarus.
“The outrageous and illegal behavior of the regime in Belarus will have consequences,” she said via her twitter account on Sunday.
‘Act of state hijacking’
In a statement also on Sunday, the Greek Foreign Ministry condemned the incident which it said was an “act of state hijacking”.
“This act, which endangered the lives of all passengers, is unacceptable. We call for the immediate release of the aircraft and all passengers so they can reach their final destination,” the ministry said.
“For Greece, defending fundamental values such as democracy, the rule of law and human rights is a matter of principle.”
The ministry went on to add that Greece will be in close coordination with the other EU member states and expects the issue and sanctions to be discussed during the upcoming European Council meeting in Brussels later today. According to media reports, penalties may include designating Belarusian airspace unsafe for EU carriers; banning landing of all flights from Belarus at EU airports; and sanctions against the country’s flag carrier Belavia.
European Union leaders have also called on the International Commercial Aviation Organization (ICAO) to launch an investigation into the circumstances of the incident.
“Initial reports suggesting the involvement of the Belarusian security services and the use of Belarusian military aircraft to escort the plane are deeply concerning and require full investigation,” said US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary described the incident as a “state-sponsored hijacking”.
The Lithuanian government called for Belarusian airspace to be closed to international flights in response to what it called a hijacking “by military force”.