The European Union wasted no time in reacting to the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk after an alleged bomb threat. Dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, a passenger on the flight, was removed by Belarusian authorities and taken into custody. Since the incident there have been waves of fiery condemnation and calls of further sanctions coming from Brussels and the capital cities of many EU nation-states. European leaders are calling for a ban on Belarusian airlines flying over EU territory and are urging EU-based airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace. This would have a consequential effect on the economy of Belarus, however it is not likely to act as an instrument to bring about the desired political change in that country. For the moment, the EU has agreed to lay targeted economic sanctions on Belarus. This type of sanction will be applied selectively against specific Belarusian business entities and individuals.
On the diplomatic front, aside from rhetoric there has been minimal activity. The exception is Latvia, which expelled its diplomats from Belarus on Monday following a similar act by Minsk earlier in the day. The Ryanair incident prompted Latvian officials to replace the Belarusian state flag with the traditional red and white flag, now a symbol of the opposition movement, at an ice hockey tournament.
It is improbable that the expected EU economic sanctions will help bring about the end of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime or change the domestic situation there. The EU’s action will simply push Lukashenko and his country closer to Russia, perhaps inextricably placing it back in the Russian sphere of influence. Lukashenko has been leaning heavily on Russian President Vladimir Putin since the Belarusian presidential election in August, 2020. It is mainly an alliance of necessity at this point. Putin and Russia need a stable and compliant neighbor now, especially with Ukraine remaining as defiant and pro-West as ever.