REUTERS

It was personally Alexander Lukashenko who took the decision to apprehend the founder of the NEXTA media project on a Telegram chat messenger, Roman Protasevich, suggests Ukraine's Ambassador to Belarus Ihor Kyzym.

The special operation involving the diversion of a commercial passenger plane transiting via the Belarusian airspace could not be a spontaneous effort, Kyzym told Ukraine 24 TV.

This is the first time in his diplomatic career, the ambassador says, that he witnessed a government's move to force-land a passenger jet.

"Obviously, the decision was made at the highest level, no one else says anything else about it. The decision was taken personally by Alexander Lukashenko after the relevant agencies reported to him of the need to take such a step, and so on. It is obvious this was no spontaneous operation – it had been prepared. Whether the decision was taken independently, I'm unaware, but it's a sure fact this was the top leader, and it's been proven. It was Alexander Lukashenko," the ambassador said.

Forced landing of Ryanair plane in Belarus' Minsk

On May 23, 2021, Belarus scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet to forcedly land a Ryanair plane in Minsk. The plane was heading from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania. Co-founder of Telegram's opposition channel NEXTA, Roman Protasevich, was on board the plane.

Read alsoNATO demands Belarus immediately free journalist Protasevich, his girlfriendThe plane was diverted to Minsk at the command of Belarusian air traffic controllers over a possible bomb threat, despite the fact that the distance to Vilnius was much shorter. After the plane landed, Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend were detained. Protasevich faces the death penalty in Belarus.

The circumstances of the forced landing of the Ryanair airline in Minsk will be investigated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

At 00:00 Kyiv time on May 26, 2021, Ukraine halted air traffic with Belarus over the incident. What is more, Ukrainian airlines and aircraft will not be allowed to fly in Belarusian airspace.

The European Union will in June 2021 approve the fourth package of sanctions against Belarus, including over the forced landing of a Ryanair plane in Minsk, that's according to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty journalist Rikard Jozwiak.