Mindaugas Kulbis / AP
International relations remain strained after the shocking arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich by the Belarusian government last month, which forced the plane he was on to land in Minsk.
The European and US governments have apparently entered into a tit-for-tat relationship with the government of Belarus and Lukashenko following the incident.
European Union ambassadors on Friday approved a plan to ban Belarusian airlines from flying over EU territory or landing at EU airports. European Union airlines will also be banned from flying over Belarus, according to Reuters.
This affects around 400 civilian flights that typically fly over Belarus every day, according to the European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol. This includes 300 overflights, including around 100 operated by European or British carriers.
On Thursday, the Belarusian government ordered the downsizing of the US embassy in Minsk effective June 13.
The Belarusian foreign ministry said it was cutting an unknown number of “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.
Movements after Biden administration reapplies full sanctions against nine state-owned companies in Belarus, as of Thursday.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price blamed Belarus for the poor state of relations, saying it was due to “the relentless and escalating crackdown on” Belarusian citizens, resulting in the arrest of Protasevich.
The journalist is the former editor and founder of Nexta, an anti-regime blog and social media channel that was instrumental in the protests against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Protasevich was flying from Greece to Lithuania on a Ryanair flight last month when he was ordered by Belarusian officials to make an emergency landing in Minsk. Authorities boarded the plane under the pretext of a bomb threat and removed Protasevich and his girlfriend.
Price said U.S. Ambassador Julie Fisher, who has yet to visit Belarus, will continue to support activists from outside the country.
Russia, an ally of Lukashenko, was also briefly engaged in a feud with German airliners this week.
For two days this week, air traffic between Russia and Germany has been suspended. Germany halted Russian airline landings in the country because Russia did not allow Lufthansa flights to arrive at its airports.
The Berlin Transport Ministry said earlier on Wednesday that Germany had suspended Russian airlines’ landings in its territory because Russia allegedly refused to allow arrivals of flights from Lufthansa, Germany’s largest airline, in its airports.
Flights resumed Thursday.