MINSK – Belarus’s government was sharply isolated on Tuesday as Europe cut off air links and called for action to be taken to change its aircraft and arrest dissent on board.
After protests and Western sanctions last year, President Alexander Lukashenko faced extraordinary renewed pressure on Sunday to resume Ryanair’s flight to Minsk and arrest opposition journalist Roman Protasovich.
More Western leaders have joined calls calling for the release of Protosevich, following a meeting on Monday in which the European Union agreed to block Belarusian airlines and to ban EU-based carriers. Was asked not to fly in its airspace.
On Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Moss warned that Lukashenko would pay “a bitter price” for the “disgusting” flight diversion.
“Any dictator with such an ideology must understand that he will pay the price,” he told reporters.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the European Union needed to “deepen” its relations with Russia and Belarus because “we are on the verge of sanctions.”
Air France, Fana Nair and Singapore Airlines became the latest carriers to suspend flights between Belarus, followed by Scandinavian airline SAS, Germany’s Lufthansa and Latvia-based regional airline Air Baltic.
Opposition leader Svetlana Takhanovskaya said the international community needed to move forward, urging the United States to take action over the phone with National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan.
Takhnanovskaya called for “comprehensive” international measures to force the government to step down.
“It’s time to act,” he said. “The suspension of more flights from Belarus does not solve the real problem. The problem is the government of terrorism, which rigged last year’s elections.
He called on the Belarussian opposition to attend next month’s G7 summit in the United Kingdom, a source close to the French president said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has joined the demand for the release of Protaswich, warning: “Belarus’s actions will have consequences.” The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also demanded the immediate release of Protaswich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapiga, who was arrested after landing on a Valenius flight from Athens to Minsk.
EU leaders warned Monday that they would impose further “targeted economic sanctions” against Belarusian authorities for blacklisting 88 government figures and seven companies.
Lukashenko and his allies are already in the throes of Western sanctions over a brutal crackdown on opposition protests following his controversial re-election last August.
The mistaken 66-year-old leader was due to address parliament on Wednesday, after his first remarks when Jian’s plane crashed into Ryanair.
Protaswich, 26, was a co-founder of the Nexta Telegram channel, which helped organize the protests that were the biggest challenge to Lukashenko’s long rule.
He lived between Poland and Lithuania.
On Monday, Belarussian state television broadcast a 30-second video confirming that he was in a Minsk prison and “confessing” to allegations of widespread unrest. ۔