21:48 GMT16 June 2021
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    As the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council emphasized the importance of establishing the facts behind Sunday's Ryanair plane diversion in Belarus, Lithuania's criminal police chief announced on Friday that the FBI has opened its own investigation into the situation.

    The United States is working with the EU and its other partners to develop targeted sanctions against key officials of the Belarusian authorities, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced on Friday.

    "The United States, in coordination with the EU and other partners and Allies, is developing a list of targeted sanctions against key members of the Lukashenka regime associated with ongoing abuses of human rights and corruption, the falsification of the 2020 election, and the events of May 23," Psaki said.

    Moreover, the US will reinstate previously lifted "full blocking" sanctions on nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises starting from June 3.

    "As a result of this measure, U.S. persons will be prohibited from engaging in transactions with these entities, their property, or their interests in property," the spokeswoman added.

    Psaki also conveyed that the US Treasury Department is working on a new executive order, which is expected to be presented to President Joe Biden for a review, "that will provide the United States increased authorities to impose sanctions on elements of the Lukashenka regime, its support network, and those that support corruption, the abuse of human rights, and attacks on democracy."

    More to that, as part of the announced measures, the US "will suspend its discretionary application of the 2019 US-Belarus Air Services Agreement."  Under the 2019 agreement, the US and Belarus granted each other the right to fly across the partner's territory without landing and to make stops for non-traffic purposes.

    All this international outcry was caused by the events of May 23, when after a false bomb threat, a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was diverted from its route and had to make an emergency landing at Minsk Airport.

    A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich and diverted to Belarus, where authorities detained him, lands at Vilnius Airport in Vilnius, Lithuania May 23, 2021.
    A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich and diverted to Belarus, where authorities detained him, lands at Vilnius Airport in Vilnius, Lithuania May 23, 2021.

    On board the plane was Roman Protasevich, the founder of the Belarusian opposition Telegram channel Nexta, who for several years has been living in Poland while wanted back home. Soon after landing and an ID check at the airport, Protasevich, whose channel is considered extremist by the Belarusian authorities, was apprehended by the country's KGB.

    For a range of criminal charges, including organizing civil unrest, the journalist could now face up to fifteen years in prison.

    Following a storm of criticism from the EU and the US, the Belarusian authorities claimed that the airport administration got the bomb threat via email and that the pilot was not ordered to land the jet and made his own decision. Shortly after, the pilot's alleged communication with the airport operator was made public by the authorities, and it did not apparently contain any demands or threats to the flight's crew.

    As technically all European countries have imposed flights bans on Belarusian airspace, on Thursday, the Eastern European nation's permanent mission to the UN issued notes of protest to several UN Security Council members and the US condemning this week's closed discussion of the issue, following which they denounced the actions of the Belarusian authorities, claiming that the plane was forced to land by a military jet fighter.

    Despite the stir and an avalanche of newly imposed sanctions and international condemnation, incidents similar to the Ryanair one are not new to history. One of the most high-profile cases was the forced landing of Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane in Vienna in 2013. The incident was sparked by rumors that former CIA agent Edward Snowden, who is accused of leaking state secrets in the US, was on board with the president.


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