Biden demands investigation into Ryanair flight diversion

Biden’s statement came after White House press secretary Jen Psaki called for an “immediate” international investigation during a Monday briefing.

“This was a shocking act of diverting a flight between two EU-member states for the apparent purpose of arresting a journalist, it constitutes a brazen affront to international freedom and security by the regime,” Psaki said. “We demand an immediate international, transparent and credible investigation of this incident.”

Biden, in his statement, said he had “asked my team to develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible, in close coordination with the European Union, other allies and partners, and international organizations.”

The president backed EU leaders’ calls for sanctions on Belarus, the details of which have yet to be determined.

Psaki said Biden was briefed Monday morning by his national security team. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also separately raised the United States’ “strong” concerns of the episode in a call with his Russian counterpart, Nikolay Patrushev.

The White House condemned the government of President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus for what it called the “ongoing harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists simply for doing their job,” Psaki added.

The administration is also in touch with its bilateral partners and through multilateral channels, including NATO, the United Nations, the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“We have nothing to read out at this point, but we will continue to coordinate closely with them,” Psaki said.

Belarus used fighter aircraft to force down the Ryanair flight between Greece and Lithuania over the weekend under the guise of a bomb threat, then arrested Pratasevich.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken quickly condemned the forced flight diversion and demanded the “immediate release” of Pratasevich.

Several members of Congress and European leaders also issued condemnations.

In response to the forced landing, the Lithuanian government released a statement recognizing Belarus as “unsafe for Lithuanian citizens” and banned flights to and from Lithuania crossing the country.

“Yesterday’s incident involving a civilian aircraft on an international route was an unprecedented event in the history of the European Union airspace, which forcibly involved dozens of EU citizens, children and families,” the statement on Sunday said.

Belarus has seen months of protests after August elections, which Lukashenko is widely believed to have stolen. Pratasevich has been an important player in protests against Lukashenko, helping to coordinate them.

Biden backed the protesters and opposition leaders in his statement on Monday night.

“For months, the Belarusian people have made their voices heard — demanding democracy, respect for human rights, and the preservation of fundamental freedoms,” the president said. “I applaud the courage and determination of Belarusians fighting for basic rights, including journalists like Raman Pratasevich and opposition leaders like Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and her husband, Syarhey Tsikhanouski. The United States will continue to stand with the people of Belarus in their struggle.”

Sullivan spoke with Tsikhanouskaya on Monday, according to a White House readout, saying that the U.S. supported protesters’ demands for “democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms” and that the U.S. would hold Lukashenko’s government accountable.

Tsikhanouskaya, who ran against Lukashenko, fled to Lithuania after the election. Lithuania has declined to extradite her back to Belarus, saying that “hell will freeze over first.” Belarus opened a terrorism probe against the opposition leader earlier this year.

On Monday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN that the safety of flights being operated above Belarus’ airspace should be reviewed.

“We, in terms of the international bodies we’re part of and as an administration with the FAA, are looking at that because the main reason my department exists is safety,” he said.

Tanya Snyder contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.