NATO foreign and defence ministers meet by videolink on Tuesday, the day after the Western military alliance moved to restrict access to its headquarters for a group of Belarus officials.
The decision follows Minsk’s intervention last month forcing a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk in order to arrest a dissident journalist, which caused outrage in the West.
“We have decided to restrict the access of Belarusian personnel to the NATO headquarters based on our assessment of security measures at the headquarters,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Monday.
The move is expected to affect about five officials, who will have their usual delegation badges removed, depriving them of some access to some areas of NATO’s headquarters in Brussels. However, they will still be able to enter the complex as visitors.
Although not a NATO member, Belarus has had a diplomatic mission in Brussels since 1998 after developing ties with the alliance in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union.
Under a cooperation partnership tackling issues such as arms control and military education, Belarusian staff have been able to attend NATO meetings and seminars.
Last week NATO ambassadors said the diversion of the Ryanair flight and detention of Roman Protasevich “seriously violated the norms governing civil aviation and endangered the lives of the passengers and crew”. Stoltenberg has branded it “a state hijacking”.
The secretary-general’s public comments were stronger than the actual NATO communique, and Reuters quoted diplomatic sources as saying that Turkey had pushed alliance partners into watering down the official reaction.
The US and European nations condemned a “blatant attack” on civilian aviation safety and international law. Protasevich’s parents urged world leaders to ramp up sanctions against Belarus.
The journalist and outspoken critic of leader Alexander Lukashenko’s regime was arrested after the plane landed in Minsk along with his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.
No evidence was provided to back up the authorities’ claims that the intervention was ordered over a bomb scare, with international leaders accusing Belarus of carrying out a ruse to arrest the dissident.
Tuesday’s virtual NATO meetings are also expected to address the alliance’s engagement in Afghanistan and developments in Ukraine, ahead of a full summit on June 14.