The civil aviation sector should not be politicised, Artyom Sikorsky, director of aviation at Belarus’ Ministry of Transport and Communications, told the Belarusian state-owned channel ONT TV on June 10.

“The sanctions the Europeans have imposed on us are like a ‘toothless bite’. It feels unpleasant and disgusting, but not painful,” he said, as quoted by the BelTA news agency.

According to him, the European Union was primarily causing problems for ordinary people, not only in Belarus but from many other countries.

“Of course, sanctions are harmful. Moreover, they cause harm to all parties. But can we say that the situation is catastrophic? In fact, the situation in aviation now is the same as it was in 2020, when the coronavirus began,” Sikorsky elaborated.

“I believe that when our European counterparts introduced the sanctions, they didn’t even fully realise what they had done. It is, after all, absolutely wrong to politicise aviation security matters. You can understand what the situation may turn out to be - tomorrow a wrong decision could be made simply out of being afraid of repercussions, like sanctions or some kind of political pressure,” he said.

As previously reported, Brussels formalised a bloc-wide ban on Belarusian carriers in early June in the wake of the forced May 23 diversion to Minsk National of a Ryanair flight from Athens Int'l to Vilnius, followed by the arrest of two opposition journalists who were on board.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Japan’s government decided on June 10 to join the EU and likewise ban all Belarus-flagged carriers and aircraft from conducting operations to and over the country, including charters, “even if a request is made,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Katō said at a news conference, Kyodo News agency reported.

The move is largely symbolic, as Japan and Belarus have no direct air connections. It came after the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialised nations condemned Belarus’ actions.

The Japanese government will also make an official recommendation to the country’s airlines to change their flight paths so that they do not cross the territory of Belarus. ANA - All Nippon Airways said it had already followed a European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) advisory to avoid Belarusian airspace, while JAL - Japan Airlines said that none of its routes passed over the country.

“We strongly condemn the forced landing of a civilian aircraft and the arbitrary arrest of a specific passenger on board by the Belarusian authorities, and we demand the immediate release of the arrested journalist,” Katō said.