The European Union says seven non-aligned European states have agreed to deny permission to any aircraft operated by Belarusian air carriers to land in, take off from, or overfly their territories following Minsk's forced diversion of a passenger flight last month that allowed for the arrest of a dissident journalist.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement on June 21 that four EU candidate countries in the Western Balkans -- Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia -- along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway will 'align themselves' with a June 4 decision by the 27-member states to strengthen the bloc's existing restrictive measures against Belarus by introducing a ban on Belarusian carriers from overflying EU airspaces and from accessing to EU airports.
'They will ensure that their national policies conform to this Council Decision. The European Union takes note of this commitment and welcomes it,' Borrell said.
On May 23, Belarusian authorities scrambled a military jet to direct a Ryanair flight over its airspace to land in Minsk in what many countries regard as a 'state hijacking.' After the plane landed, law enforcement immediately arrested opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend.
Borrell's announcement came on the same day as the EU, the United States, Britain, and Canada slapped a fresh round of coordinated sanctions on Belarus in response to the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka's mounting repression against the political opposition and the free media.
SEE ALSO: Western Allies Slap Fresh Sanctions On Belarus
The sanctions included asset freezes and visa bans imposed against dozens of officials, lawmakers, and ministers from Lukashenka's administration and his family members, as well as Belarusian entities.
EU foreign ministers agreed to sanction key sectors of the Belarusian economy and major revenue sources for the regime: potash fertilizer exports, the tobacco industry, petroleum, and petrochemical products.
Minsk said on June 22 that the sanctions would negatively impact the interests of Belarusian citizens and warned that it would be forced to take reciprocal measures.
The EU 'continues purposeful destructive actions against the population in order, allegedly, to 'dry up the regime financially.' In fact, this borders on a declaration of economic war,' the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said.
Borrell has said that the economic sanctions should be confirmed after a summit of the bloc's leaders in Brussels later this week.
Previous rounds of Western sanctions also hit individual institutions and Lukashenka's inner circle over the brutal crackdown on the opposition by the Belarusian authorities in the wake of a disputed election last August.
The EU, the United States, and other countries refuse to recognize the official results of last summer's election and do not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036