NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said staff of the Belarus diplomatic mission to the Alliance will have limited access following the forced landing of a passenger plane through Minsk and the arrest of an on-board opposition journalist at its headquarters.
“We have decided to limit the access of Belarusian personnel to NATO headquarters based on our assessment of the security measures at headquarters.” Stoltenberg told reporters on May 31, on the eve of a NATO defense and foreign ministerial meeting.
A Belarusian ambassador and four other diplomats are said to be involved in the move.
“You can still enter, but only as a visitor with a day pass and an escort,” a NATO official was quoted as saying.
Belarus is not a member of NATO, but has had a diplomatic mission in the Western military alliance since 1998.
Belarusian personnel can take part in seminars and meetings in the Alliance and in NATO countries as part of a Partnership for Peace cooperation program that covers issues such as arms control and crisis management.
The forced landing by Belarus of a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania on May 23 and the arrest of journalist and opposition activist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend, who was traveling with him, sparked international outrage.
NATO has called for an independent international investigation into the incident, stating that this “unacceptable act is seriously contrary to civil aviation norms and endangers the lives of passengers and crew”.
“This is not only a violation of international norms and rules, but also a direct attack on freedom of expression and the free and independent press,” said Stoltenberg, welcoming the sanctions imposed on Minsk by the EU and NATO member states.
Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters that Moscow – the main supporter of Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka – would continue to support Minsk in the face of Western sanctions.
“We’ll definitely do it [provide support to Belarus]. We are both part of the union state, “said Ryabkov, without specifying what measures Moscow could take.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has in recent years urged Lukashenka to take steps to integrate their economies in order to cement a 20-year-old agreement to form a union state.
Lukashenka has rejected pressure, but unprecedented street protests against a presidential election in August 2020 and subsequent Western sanctions have weakened his negotiating position with the Russian president.
The meeting of NATO foreign and defense ministers in Brussels on May 31st will focus on preparations for a summit in the Belgian capital on June 14th.
Ministers are also expected to discuss issues such as the alliance’s engagement in Afghanistan and developments in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, said Stoltenberg.
The meeting takes place amid a low point in relations between NATO allies and Russia, the main supporter of Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
“What we are seeing is a pattern of Russian behavior in which Russia has invested heavily in new modern military capabilities in recent years, from conventional to nuclear weapons systems,” Stoltenberg said, adding that Moscow “was ready to use military force against neighbors in Georgia and Ukraine, which continues toâ¦ destabilize eastern Ukraine and illegally annex Crimea. “
“And then we saw more Russian military presence in the far north, in the Barents Sea and in the Baltic Sea, in Kaliningrad, in the Black Sea and also in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. And this is one of the main reasons why NATO in the last.” Years has increased the readiness of the armed forces. “
Stoltenberg answered a question about Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s announcement on May 31 that his country would deploy “around 20 new military formations and units” near its western borders by the end of the year to counter the growing threat he claims transatlantic alliance.
With reports from Reuters, AP, TASS and AFP