The Government of Lithuania is lobbying in the European Union to ban bloc-based lessors from dealing with Belavia (B2, Minsk National) due to the Belarus carrier's alleged involvement in a state-sponsored people-smuggling racket, Politico has reported.

"We need to make sure that no European company participates, either directly or indirectly, in the human smuggling - as, for example, those European companies that are renting airplanes to the otherwise sanctioned Belarusian Belavia company,” Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis wrote to the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell.

Later, the governments of all three EU countries bordering Belarus - Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland - joined by Estonia, issued a statement calling for their fellow EU member states to "jointly use all available diplomatic and practical means to cut the new irregular migration routes at its inception". However, they did not specifically ask for pressure to be put on lessors dealing with Belavia.

Belarus's EU neighbours have accused President Alexander Lukashenko's regime of at least facilitating, if not outright organising, a new migration route from the Middle East via Belarus to the EU. In July and August 2021, the issue came to light when thousands of economic migrants and refugees mostly from Iraq, tried to enter Lithuania, having first flown to Minsk National on Iraqi Airways or Fly Baghdad flights. Both carriers increased their capacity to Belarus at that time. While these flights largely stopped after the EU put pressure on Baghdad, Belavia has allegedly been using its scheduled services to Turkey to carry not just Belarusian vacation-goers, but also migrants subsequently escorted by Belarus authorities to EU borders.

State-owned Belavia is heavily exposed to international lessors. According to the ch-aviation fleets ownership module, it owns just 12 of 33 aircraft in its current fleet, including three VIP aircraft operated on behalf of the government. Out of its commercial fleet, 21 out of 30 aircraft are currently dry-leased, primarily from EU-based lessors. It leases six aircraft (one B737-300, two B737-500, and three E195-E2s) from Ireland-based AerCap, four E175s and three E195s from Denmark's Nordic Aviation Capital, one B737-800 each from Ireland's SMBC Aviation Capital and Thunderbolt Aircraft Lease, and one B737-300 from Romanian carrier Carpatair. The remainder of Belavia's fleet is leased from US-based entities Air Lease Corporation, Altavair, and Merx Aviation Finance.

Sources told Politico that lessors have been unwilling to heed any non-binding pressure from the EU and that any binding decisions are doubtful. While Belavia and all other Belarus-based carriers are banned from the European Union airspace after the state-backed hijacking of a Ryanair B737-800 in Belarus, no trade or financial sanctions have been placed on the airline.

None of the involved EU-based lessors responded to ch-aviation's request for comment, except for NAC and SMBC, which refused to comment.