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The EU Bans Belarus Airlines And Reroutes Flights Around Its Airspace

International relations are still tense following the shocking arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich by the Belarusian government last month in which it forced the plane he was aboard to land in Minsk.

European and U.S. governments have been engaged in an apparent tit for tat with Belarus and Lukashenko's government following the incident.

European Union ambassadors on Friday approved a plan to ban Belarus airlines from flying over EU territory or landing in EU airports. European Union airlines will be prohibited from flying over Belarus as well, according to Reuters.

That affects about 400 civilian flights that usually fly over Belarus every day, according to European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol. That includes 300 overflights, about 100 operated by EU or British carriers.

On Thursday, the Belarusian government ordered the number of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk to be reduced effective June 13.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said it was cutting an unspecified number of both "diplomatic and administrative-technical" staff at the embassy. The agency also announced that Belarus would restrict visa procedures and revoke permission for USAID to work in the country.

The moves come after the Biden administration reimplemented full sanctions against nine state-owned enterprises in Belarus, effective Thursday.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price blamed Belarus for the poor state of relations, saying it's due to the "relentless and intensifying repression against" Belarusian citizens, culminating in the arrest of Protasevich.

The journalist is the former editor and founder of Nexta, an anti-regime blog and social media channel that has been instrumental in leading protests against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Last month, Protasevich was flying from Greece to Lithuania on a Ryanair flight when it was ordered by Belarusian officials to make an emergency landing in Minsk. Authorities boarded the plane under the pretense of a bomb threat and pulled Protasevich and his girlfriend off.

Price says U.S. Ambassador Julie Fisher, who has not yet been able to move to Belarus, will continue to support activists from outside the country.

Russia, an ally of Lukashenko, was also briefly engaged in a spat with German airliners this week.

For two days this week, airline traffic between Russia and Germany was suspended. Germany halted landings of Russian airlines in the country because Russia didn't allow arrivals of Lufthansa flights into its airports.

The ministry of transport in Berlin said earlier on Wednesday that Germany had suspended landings of Russian airlines on its territory because Russia allegedly did not authorize arrivals of Lufthansa flights, the largest German airline, into its airports.

Flights resumed on Thursday.

This article originally appeared on NPR

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