US finalizes air travel restrictions in Belarus after hijacking
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko (Photo) Friday, July 2) ordered the border with Ukraine closed, seeking to block what he called an influx of arms to plotters detected by his security services, the state news agency reported BelTA, write Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow and Natalia Zinets in Kiev, Reuters.
The move appears to worsen the stalemate between Belarus and outside powers, angered by its government’s ban on a Ryanair flight in May and the arrest of a government critic who was on board the plane.
Western countries have imposed sanctions on Belarus to punish it for this action, and the European Union and Ukraine have also banned flights registered in Belarus from entering their airspace.
Lukashenko, who has repeatedly accused Western criminals of trying to oust him from power, said he had ordered a purge across the country and that rebel groups planning a coup had been discovered in Belarus.
“They crossed the line. We cannot forgive them,” he said.
Speaking at a rally marking the country’s Independence Day, the veteran leader said that Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and the United States were behind the suspected rebel activity, BelTA reported.
“A huge amount of weapons are coming from Ukraine to Belarus. That is why I ordered the border security forces to completely close the border with Ukraine,” Lukashenko said.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolaenko said Ukraine has neither interfered in Belarusian internal affairs nor planned to do so in the future.
“The Ukrainian side has not received any official notification from Belarus regarding the border closure. It would be mainly the Belarusian people who would suffer from such a measure,” Nikolaenko said.
Belarus shares a border with Ukraine to the south. It borders Poland and Lithuania to the west, Latvia to the north and Russia to the east.
The decision to close the borders with Ukraine comes days after Belarus recalled its permanent representative to the European Union for consultations after Brussels imposed economic sanctions.
But Lukashenko, who has also been sanctioned by the West for widespread political repression, is considered largely unscathed by the sanctions and able to continue funding the economy and its security forces, rating agencies and analysts have said. . Read more.