The Defense Ministry of Belarus has confirmed a MiG-29 fighter jet has been sent to escort a Ryanair plane, which reportedly requested a landing at Minsk National Airport over a possible bomb threat.
This was announced by Chief of the General Staff and First Deputy Commander of the Air Force and Air Defense Command Major General Andrei Gurtsevich on Telegram on May 23.
"Having received a report that in our country's airspace, there is a civil aircraft facing a possible bomb threat, the Central Air Operations Control Center ordered that the air defense forces on duty be placed on alert. This was done to assess the situation and make the right decision in the future," he said in a statement.
"After the commander of that civilian aircraft decided to land at an alternate airfield (Minsk-2) and ordered the aircraft to be diverted in the direction of Minsk, a decision was made to scramble a MiG-29 on duty from Baranovichi airfield. The crew on duty was tasked to exercise control and, if necessary, provide assistance so that the civilian aircraft could make a safe landing at the Minsk-2 airfield," he said.
Forced landing of Ryanair plane and Roman Protasevich's arrest
- On May 23, 2021, a Ryanair plane flying en route from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, was diverted and forced to land at Minsk airport, Belarus. After landing, the country's authorities arrested co-founder of Telegram's opposition channel NEXTA, Roman Protasevich, who was on board the plane.
- Roman Protasevich is a former editor-in-chief of NEXTA, which covered recent mass protests against the regime of President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko.
- The Belarusian authorities put Protasevich on the international wanted list and designated him a "terrorist." He had to flee the country for fear of political persecution.
- Leader of the Belarusian opposition Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (Svetlana Tikhanovskaya) responded to the forced landing of the plane with co-founder of NEXTA Roman Protasevich and his arrest at Minsk airport. "The regime forced the landing Ryanair plane in Minsk to arrest journalist and activist Raman Pratasevich. He faces the death penalty in Belarus. We demand immediate release of Raman, ICAO investigation, and sanctions against Belarus," she said on Twitter on May 23.
- There were immediate reports that Lukashenko had sent a MiG-29 fighter jet to intercept the Ryanair plane with the ex-chief editor of NEXTA on board.