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The Belarusian government hijacked a Ryanair plane (or "diverted", to use a more neutral word) above its territory to capture Roman Protasevich, a member of the opposition to President Lukashenko.

The plane was redirected into the territory a few kilometers before the Lithuanian border and escorted to Minsk.

What would have been the probable diplomatic reactions of Lithuania/EU/NATO/... if the planes had entered Lithuanian territory to make the interception, quickly left and flown back with the plane to Minsk?

Since the current diplomatic reactions to the hijacking are small (no flights for Belorussian planes above the EU so far) I was wondering whether there would be anything more to do in case of a clear incident such as this one.

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    hijacked? Not quite. A false bomb threat to cause a diversion is not a hijacking. Still a dirty trick of course, and one I applaud the Belorussians for thinking up (I'd never heard of it being done before) but not a hijacking.
    – jwenting
    May 26, 2021 at 9:51
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    @Shadow1024: I doubt that the pilot of a civil airplane would discuss requests from a hostile fighter jet. He may (maybe) try to win some time but if the request is escalated he would have no choice but to follow the request.
    – WoJ
    May 26, 2021 at 9:51
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    @jwenting: seriously? Not only the plane was minutes from the Lithuanian airport, but then the plane was cruising all over Belarus. And then someone was arrested. Quite convenient, right?
    – WoJ
    May 26, 2021 at 9:53
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    @WoJ sure it was a bad move by Belorussia, but it wasn't a hijacking. Nobody inside the plane tried to take over the cockpit.
    – jwenting
    May 26, 2021 at 12:12
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    @Shadow1024: yes, this is possible. Now, if the boat is a transatlantic cruiser and the armed boat is 1/50 of its size with a few guns this is conceivable. A civilian plane has no chances against a fighter jet (except in movies :)).
    – WoJ
    May 26, 2021 at 12:34

1 Answer 1

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NATO has an air defense system called Quick Reaction Alert (QRA). Lithuania is part of the Baltic Air Policing mission. The stated mission, as described by Wikipedia is:

Within the Alliance, preserving airspace integrity is conducted as a collective task jointly and collectively using fighter aircraft for Air Policing. Air policing is a purely defensive mission. Since the 1970s, NATO has established a comprehensive system of air surveillance and airspace management means, as well as Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) assets for intercepts (QRA(I)) provided by its member nations. By means of radar sites, remote data transmission, Control and Reporting Centres (CRCs) and Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOCs) the Alliance ensures constant surveillance and control of its assigned airspace 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. NATO exploits these facilities to react within seconds to air traffic incidents in the Allies’ airspace. This structure of weapon systems, control centres and procedures is referred to as the NATO Integrated Air Defence System (NATINADS). NATINADS has been and remains one cornerstone of Alliance solidarity and cohesion.

What happens in practice? They scramble jets. NATO has a video on the procedure here. The steps described in the video are:

  1. An unidentified aircraft is picked up by radar. It's then reported to a central controlling agency.

  2. The central controlling agency decides if further investigation is necessary.

  3. If investigation is needed, the central controlling agency decides which aircraft in the QRA is most suitable to investigate. It's then alerted to go to the unidentified airplane.

  4. It then intercepts the airplane by flying next to it. At this point, the jet pilot will look for visual clues. It will also escort the aircraft away from NATO territory if it's close to it. (the video makes no mention of what happens when it enters NATO territory)

  5. A situation report is relayed to the central controlling agency.

So what happens if they do enter NATO airspace? For that we'll look at a past incident. For example, in 2016 a Russian jets entered NATO airspace over Finland and Estonia. The incursions seem to have been short and there's not a lot of information other than that there were intercepts:

German pilots patrolling the skies over the Baltics reported “noticeable and aggressive behavior” by Russian military aircraft overnight, a spokesman for the German defense ministry said.

He said two of up to six German Eurofighters stationed at Amari air base in Estonia had been scrambled several times to identify the Russian aircraft.


What would have been the probable diplomatic reactions of Lithuania/EU/NATO/... if the planes would have entered Lithuanian territory to make the interception, quickly leave and flew back with the plane to Minsk?

Since the current diplomatic reactions to the hijacking are small (no flights for Belorussian planes above the EU so far) I was wondering whether there would be anything more to do in case of a clear incident such as this one.

As for implications after the fact, it would still be a diplomatic incident. There would be a European Council meeting, this meeting actually took place in response to the events as they unfolded:

EU leaders met in Brussels to discuss pressing issues.

On 24 May, they discussed Belarus, Russia, relations with the UK, and the situation in the Middle East and in Mali. On 25 May, they focused on COVID-19 and climate change.

If the situation had been more severe then the meeting may have resulted in a stronger response. Whether that would actually have happened is impossible to say. It would be up to the people in that (or similar) meeting(s) to decide how to respond.

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  • Correct. And especially after 9/11 NATO would scramble fighters to intercept the airliner and guide it down at the nearest suitable airport, and have authorisation to use weapons if the aircraft were to refuse and try to flee.
    – jwenting
    May 26, 2021 at 16:44
  • "Whether that would actually have happened is impossible to say." I'd bet a paycheck (yes, I'm gainfully employed!) that the reaction would have been an even sterner warning, and some piddling sanctions.
    – RonJohn
    May 26, 2021 at 20:34
  • sometimes I wish EU weren't such wussies and would just shot down any incursing russian jets. but then I remember that I really don't want that.
    – Christian
    May 28, 2021 at 20:09

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