White House announces sanctions over Belarus' passenger plane interception

·2 min read

The Biden administration on Friday night further condemned Belarus’ May 23 forced take down of a civilian airliner, calling it a “direct affront” to international norms and announcing sanctions against the former Soviet republic.

“Belarus’s forced diversion of a commercial Ryanair flight under false pretenses, traveling between two member states of the European Union, and the subsequent removal and arrest of Raman Pratasevich, a Belarusian journalist, are a direct affront to international norms,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “These events took place amid an escalating wave of repression by the Lukashenka regime against the aspirations of the people of Belarus for democracy and human rights.”

Faking a bomb threat on Sunday, Belarus authorities used fighter jets to force down a Ryanair flight and arrest journalist Raman Pratasevich and his partner. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenka has faced swelling opposition to his dictatorial rule in recent months, leading to mass arrests and the departure of some opposition leaders from the country. Lukashenka has held power since 1994.

The White House on Friday said the Department of State has issued a Level 4 Do Not Travel Warning to U.S. citizens, urging them to not travel to Belarus. The FAA also warned U.S. passenger carriers “to exercise extreme caution when considering flying in Belarusian airspace.”

The U.S. will also re-impose sanctions against nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises, the statement said. The White House said it is also coordinating with the European Union and other allies to develop targeted sanctions against Lukashenka and members of his regime “associated with ongoing abuses of human rights and corruption, the falsification of the 2020 election, and the events of May 23.”

“We call on Lukashenka to allow a credible international investigation into the events of May 23, immediately release all political prisoners, and enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue with the leaders of the democratic opposition and civil society groups that leads to the conduct of free and fair Presidential elections under OSCE auspices and monitoring,” the White House said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had previously condemned Belarus' actions.

“This shocking act,” Blinken said Sunday, “perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens. 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.”

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