Disinfo: Ryanair Athens-Vilnius flight was forced to land just like the 2013 flight of Evo Morales

Summary

An event similar to the forced landing of the Ryanair Athens-Vilnius flight already happened in 2013 with the flight of President Evo Morales, which was forced to land in Austria because former CIA agent Edward Snowden was thought to be on board.

Disproof

Pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative about the arrest of a Belarusian opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich and the Ryanair Flight 4978 hijacking.

On 23 May 2021, Ryanair flight FR4879 from Athens to Vilnius was forced by the Belarusian authorities to divert its flight path to the Belarusian capital of Minsk, despite the fact that it was already close to Vilnius airport. The civilian flight was flanked by a MIG-29 armed with air-to-air missiles; air traffic control in Minsk reported an alleged bomb threat by Hamas on board, but according to Dossier Center and Newlines, the alleged threat arrived 24 minutes later than the first warning.

At the airport in Minsk, the Belarusian journalist, blogger and opponent Raman Pratasevich, a prominent critic of Belarus's authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a passenger on board the flight, was arrested. Pratasevich fled Belarus two years ago because he was accused by the government of Lukashenka of terrorism.

This case is unprecedented and is not comparable to the Edward Snowden episode. In 2013, under the Obama administration, Bolivian President Evo Morales' flight was forced to land in Austria under pressure from the US, which believed former NSA agent and fugitive Edward Snowden was on board.

The landing of Morales' plane in Austria followed bureaucratic procedures and there were no armed military planes involved or pretexts of bombs on board. According to Bolivian officials statements, European nations refused it permission to enter their airspace, leaving Morales flight with no clear route back home after a trip to Moscow.

The plane subsequently landed in Austria because it needed to refuel, and Heinz Fischer, Austria’s president at the time, met with Morales at the airport.

The hijacking of the Ryanair plane by Belarus was widely condemned as a state-sponsored piracy.

On 24 May 2021, in a declaration on behalf of the EU on the forced diversion of Ryanair flight FR4978 to Minsk on 23 May 2021, the High Representative called for the immediate release of detained journalist Mr Pratasevich. This was followed by a European Council statement, in which the EU leaders called for targeted individual and economic sanctions as well as a ban on flights over EU airspace by Belarusian airlines as well as preventing these flights from accessing airports in the EU airports.

Read similar cases claiming that the Ryanair aircraft was forced to land just like the plane of then-Bolivian President Evo Morales in 2013 and that forcing down aircraft is common practice among special forces.

publication/media

  • Reported in: Issue 246
  • DATE OF PUBLICATION: 24/05/2021
  • Article language(s) Italian
  • Countries and/or Regions discussed in the disinformation: Belarus, Lithuania
  • Keywords: Ryanair Flight 4978, Terrorism, Alexander Lukashenko, Raman Pratasevich, Edward Snowden

Belarus

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Disinfo: Forcing down aircraft is common practice among special forces

Special forces of many countries divert or force aircraft to land in order to detain people of interest. Not only the Americans are known for this, but Israel, Turkey, Iran...

Disproof

The case with Ryanair FR4879 is unique, as the aircraft was intercepted by military fighter-jets, armed with air-to-air missiles. At no earlier occasion have national authorities mobilised the military in such a way to detain a wanted criminal.

Background:

Disinfo: Pratasevich could tell how the West supported and coordinated protests in Belarus

The detention of the founder of the NEXTA Telegram channel Roman Pratasevich looks like a good-planned operation of Belarusian special forces. Minsk hopes that Pratasevich could tell a lot about how the West supported and coordinated protests in Belarus. It could influence his further fate.

The operation was risky but today in the context of big geopolitical interests all play a game without rules. In this case, the end of Pratasevich story justifies the means.

Disproof

Recurring disinformation narrative about the West being behind protests in Belarus.

The protests in Belarus erupted to contest the results of the presidential election on 9 August 2020, which were not monitored by independent experts, and are largely considered fraudulent by both international observers and a big part of the Belarusian society. On 19 August 2020, the European Council called Belarusian elections neither free nor fair.

Disinfo: The captain of the Ryanair flight decided to land in Minsk, because it was the nearest airport

According to international rules, Minsk turned out to be the nearest airport, and according to these same international rules, the captain of the flight decided to land in Minsk. It was the decision of the captain of the flight.

Disproof

Disinformation about the Ryanair flight 4978.

On Sunday, May 23, 2021, the Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was forced to turn back minutes before crossing the Lithuanian border and land in the Belarusian capital. The pretext for landing in Minsk was a false report about the bomb on board. At the moment when the plane changed course, it was closer to Vilnius airport than to Minsk. The plane was forced to land in the Belarusian capital by a Belarusian military aircraft. To land in the Belarusian capital was not the Ryanair pilots' decision.

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