Relations between the UK and Belarus have nosedived after Belarusian authorities diverted a passenger plane flying over their territory to arrest a dissident blogger wanted on extremism charges.
Roman Protasevich, who co-founded the opposition Nexta channel on Telegram , was held by the Belarusian authorities after his Ryanair flight from Athens (Greece), was rerouted from its scheduled destination of Vilnius (Lithuania) to Minsk on Sunday (May 23).
Protasevich, 26, was wanted in Belarus on extremism charges and is accused of organizing mass riots and inciting social hatred in the wake of the country’s disputed presidential election in August 2020.
UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, took to the social media platform Twitter to condemn the “outlandish” action by the Belarusian government before warning of “serious implications”.
The UK is alarmed by reports of the arrest of @nexta_tv journalist Roman Protasevich & circumstances that led to his flight being forced to land in Minsk. We are coordinating with our allies. This outlandish action by Lukashenko will have serious implications.— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) May 23, 2021
This was followed by a tweet by the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, where he revealed he had instructed the UK Civil Aviation Authority to request British airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace, ostensibly “to keep passengers safe”.
Following the forced diversion of a @Ryanair aircraft to Minsk yesterday, I’ve instructed @UK_CAA to request airlines avoid Belarusian airspace in order to keep passengers safe. I have also suspended Belavia’s operating permit.— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) May 24, 2021
Shapps also revealed he had suspended the operating permit of Belarus' national airline, Belavia.
The Foreign Office has also reportedly summoned the Belarusian Ambassador to the UK, Maxim Yermalovich, to register anger at the “forced landing” of a civilian jet.
This apparent collapse of UK-Belarus ties comes against the backdrop of the steady deterioration of bilateral relations since last summer.
Last November the two countries engaged in the tit-for-tat expulsion of four diplomats after Belarus expressed exasperation at British interference in its domestic affairs.
The collapse of the bilateral relationship represents a blow to the British defense and security establishment which had been quietly cultivating ties with Minsk for at least five years.
In early 2020 the UK even dispatched 30 Royal Marines from 42 Commando to Belarus for a 2-week “cold weather” training exercise with the Belarusian military.