Russia Rejects Some Flight Plans, as Belarus Grows More Isolated

MOSCOW — The airspace over Eastern Europe became a geopolitical checkerboard on Thursday, as Russia rejected some European flights that have been avoiding Belarus, the most recent salvo within the furor over the forced landing of a passenger jet with a Belarusian dissident onboard.

New data emerged on Thursday that additional undermined the Belarusian authorities’s declare that it introduced down the flight on Sunday due to a bomb menace, and never for the aim of seizing the dissident, Roman Protasevich. A Swiss electronic mail supplier mentioned that the e-mail Belarusian authorities have cited as the bomb menace was in truth despatched after the airplane had already been diverted.

In the skies, the swift developments confirmed how the diversion of the flight from Greece to Lithuania and the arrest of Mr. Protasevich have been having widening repercussions for journey and commerce, and for relations between Russia and most of Europe. They indicated that Moscow may very well be ready to double down on its help of Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, Belarus’s strongman chief; the Kremlin mentioned he would meet with President Vladimir V. Putin in Sochi, Russia, on Friday.

Russian aviation authorities on Thursday declined to approve new flight plans for an Air France flight and an Austrian Airlines flight to Moscow that might have looped round Belarusian airspace. With Lithuania now barring arriving flights which have crossed over Belarus, the Russian state-owned airline Aeroflot canceled a flight from Moscow to Vilnius, Lithuania, that ordinarily would have handed by Belarusian airspace, slightly than rerouting it.

And on the airport in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, 13 of 36 scheduled departures have been canceled as the European Union made good on its pledge to sever direct air links to that nation.

Mr. Lukashenko has insisted that an emailed bomb menace had precipitated the nation’s authorities to direct the Boeing 737 operated by Irish-based Ryanair to land in Minsk. When the airplane landed, Belarusian authorities arrested Mr. Protasevich, and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.

But Protonmail, a Swiss electronic mail supplier whose service the Belarusian authorities mentioned was utilized in sending the bomb menace, on Thursday countered Mr. Lukashenko’s model. The electronic mail in query, the corporate mentioned, was despatched after the airplane had already been diverted by Belarusian air visitors controllers to Minsk.

The revelation backed up the broadly held view that the declare of a bomb menace was a ruse to seize Mr. Protasevich, who had been dwelling in exile since 2019.

“We can confirm that the message in question was sent after the plane was redirected,” Protonmail mentioned in an announcement. “We have not seen credible evidence that the Belarusian claims are true, and we will support European authorities in their investigations upon receiving a legal request.”

Angry E.U. leaders on Monday known as on air carriers based mostly within the bloc to keep away from Belarusian airspace and for E.U. airports to bar flights from Belarusian airways. The end result has been to largely reduce off Belarus — a rustic of 9.5 million folks riven by antigovernment protests since final summer time — from most of Europe. The open border with Russia has change into one of many solely methods for folks to enter and go away the nation.

But it was changing into clear Thursday that the West’s outrage over Belarus might have wider implications. In maintaining with the European Union’s instructions, European airways have began rerouting their flights to and from Russia to keep away from the airspace of Belarus. Austrian Airlines mentioned on Thursday that it had sought Russian approval for such a brand new route.

“The Russian authorities did not grant us this approval,” a spokeswoman for the airline, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, mentioned. “As a result, Austrian Airlines had to cancel today’s flight from Vienna to Moscow.”

On Wednesday night, Air France mentioned it canceled a scheduled flight from Paris to Moscow for related causes. Another Air France flight to Moscow was canceled on Thursday.

There was no official touch upon the matter from Russia, and there have been indicators that the canceled flights didn’t replicate a brand new blanket coverage. A Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt landed in Moscow Wednesday night, for example, regardless of deviating from its typical flight path to keep away from Belarus; so did a LOT Polish Airlines flight from Warsaw on Thursday.

“The presidential administration does not control air traffic,” Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, advised reporters.

It was additionally not clear whether or not Russian airways would heed some E.U. international locations’ calls for that they keep out of Belarusian airspace. Aeroflot canceled the flight to Vilnius scheduled for Friday with out clarification.

But the most important impression of the flight bans was felt in Belarus, the place strikes by the E.U. and by neighboring Ukraine to shut the nation’s airspace drastically restricted folks’s means to journey overseas. On Wednesday, a flight from Minsk to Barcelona by Belavia, the nationwide airline of Belarus, spent about two hours circling close to the Polish border earlier than returning to Minsk.

The motive, in keeping with Belavia: the authorities in France, which was within the airplane’s deliberate flight path, “manually deactivated the flight plan without notifying the airline” three minutes earlier than takeoff; French authorities didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

By Thursday, just one flight to an E.U. vacation spot — Tallinn, Estonia — departed from the Minsk airport, Flightradar24 knowledge confirmed; 13 flights to airports within the E.U. and in Ukraine have been canceled.

Reporting was contributed by Oleg Matsnev in Moscow; Constant Méheut and Gaëlle Fournier in Paris; Melissa Eddy in Berlin; and Monika Pronczuk in Brussels.

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