Taking off from Greece, Ryanair Flight FR4978, was scheduled to land at Lithuania’s Vilnius Airport. However, things took a turn when the flight was diverted to land to the Minsk National Airport while in Belarus airspace. The hijacking took place via a bomb threat. But after touching down in Minsk, Belarus, no bombs were to be found.
The event took place during the descent, and passengers onboard claimed nothing was out of the ordinary. That changed when the plane made an abrupt change of course and sudden nose dive to land in Minsk.
Passenger Raselle Grigoryeva told ABC News, “We all on the plane had panicked because we though we were going to crash. This was a sudden dive, changing the altitude very drastically. It was very violent. I’ve never felt this on an airplane. Everybody was in shock.”
Once the plane landed in Minsk, tension started to rise between the passengers. They reasoned: why should they be forced to stay in the plane if there was a bomb in it? However, there was one passenger who was worried the most. His name is Roman Protasevich.
The 26 year old journalist was charged with acts of terrorism and fueling riots after covering Belarus’s eventful 2020 presidential election. Passengers described him as frantically taking out his luggage as soon as hearing where the plane was relocated to and giving things such as his laptop to his girlfriend, which would prove to be a mistake.
Belarus officials boarded the flight once in Minsk and forcefully arrested the Protasevich and his girlfriend. Passengers described him as “super scared” and “very sad”.
It is clear to see that the Belarus government was involved. The purpose of the hijacking of Ryanair Flight FR4978 was solely conducted with intentions to arrest Roman Protasevich. The Belarus government attempts to dismiss the hijacking as a message sent by the Hamas soldiers due the ongoing Israel and Palestine crisis. However, much of the international community believes that this was a state-sponsored hijacking.
It is claimed that four passengers on board were KGB agents who did not get on the plane to go to Lithuania (the original destination of the flight) after landing in Minsk. This suggests that they boarded with the intention of landing in Minsk, not Lithuania. Passengers also claim that these four alleged KGB agents “initiated a fight with the Ryanair crew”, claiming that there was a bomb in the plane.
If it is true that this hijacking was sponsored by Belarus and the four passengers on board were KGB agents, it would entail major international implications. As the story continues to develop, Belarus has been under severe scrutiny by the international community. Along with the European Union (EU) imposing sanctions on Belarus, a no-fly zone has been declared over Belarus and international planes are not to enter Belarus airspace.
Belarus has a long history with censorship in the press and is sometimes referred to as the North Korea of Europe. It would not come as a surprise if Belarus’s alleged involvement is indeed true as the government will go to any length to legitimize their power and ensure there are no questions about their authority or power.
International organizations such as the ICAO, NATO and EU have condemned Belarus’s actions, claiming that what they did was unacceptable.
Countries all over the world started to call for the “immediate release” of the journalist, his girlfriend and information about the alleged KGB officers involved. Prominent leaders from all over the world called on the UN to take action. As the situation develops, not to the benefit of the Belarus government, it looks like they are going to be under a microscope for the foreseeable future.
President Joe Biden called the hijacking a “direct affront to international norms” and calling the incident to be infringing on the freedom of the press. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, called for an immediate international investigation claiming how the U.S. needs to be heavily involved as there were American citizens present on the flight. The situation is still developing as new information comes out and tensions increase.