An Austrian Airlines plane from Vienna and an Air France flight from Paris were canceled Thursday because Russian authorities did not grant them permission to fly over Belarus en route.
A Paris-Moscow Air France flight was unable to take off on Wednesday for the same reason.
The flights were to avoid Belarusian airspace to comply with an EU order, which came in response to the “hijacking” of a passenger plane by the country’s autocratic leader, Alexander Lukashenko, on Sunday.
The Ryanair plane, which flew from Athens to Vilnius, was forced to land in Minsk after receiving reports of a bomb threat, which turned out to be false.
The Lukashenko regime had ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the passenger plane on the ground because it wanted to arrest two people on board.
Journalist Raman Pratasevich, who co-founded Nexta, the main platform used by the opposition during protests last year, and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega were later arrested and forced to make confession videos.
In addition to denouncing the incident and demanding their release, the EU has banned Belarusian carriers from landing at European airports and advised European carriers not to fly over the country.
With Belarus increasingly becoming an international outcast, Russia began to ban European flights as a sign of solidarity with the former state of the Soviet Union.
Austria’s foreign ministry said the Russian reaction “is utterly incomprehensible to us”, adding that it was a disproportionate response to measures taken against “Sunday’s brutal act of air piracy”.
Speaking of Sunday’s “hijacking”, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said: “These are bandit tricks that are being carried out here. This cannot be tolerated by the European Union. “
The EU, however, is in a delicate position because it does not want to push Belarus further into the arms of Vladimir Putin, which severe sanctions could inadvertently do.
Additional agency reports