The White House said on Tuesday that it doesn't believe that Russia is involved in the incident with the Ryanair plane that was forced to make an emergency landing in Minsk over a bomb threat while flying from Athens to Vilnius on Sunday.
"I did not give any indication that we had that view yesterday and that has not changed," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told a reporter when asked if President Joe Biden determined that Russia had any role in diverting the Ryanair plane.
Earlier in the day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that there is no evidence that Russia was involved in the Ryanair plane's forced landing.
"...It is known about close relations between Belarus and Russia, but, as you know, there is no confirmed information [on Russia’s role in the Ryanair incident]," Merkel said during a press briefing.
On Monday, British Foreign Secretary Raab suggested that Russia might have been involved in the forced landing of the Ryanair flight in Belarus. The Kremlin dismissed any suggestion that Russia was in any way involved. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added that because of anti-Russian sentiment, Moscow "was accused of anything and everything these days".
The Vilnius-bound Ryanair flight was diverted to Minsk on Sunday over a suspected bomb threat, which later turned out to be false. Among the passengers was Roman Protasevich, 26, the co-founder of a Telegram channel that Minsk previously branded extremist. He was detained during the stopover at Minsk Airport and may face up to 15 years in prison. His girlfriend Sofia Sapega, 23, a citizen of Russia studying in Lithuania, was travelling with him; she was also detained and later arrested for two months on suspicion of organising mass riots in Belarus after the presidential election in August 2020.
The incident triggered a wave of criticism from European leaders, who accused Belarus of meddling with the European Union's civil aviation and accused Minsk of using a fake bomb threat as a pretext to ground the plane and arrest Protasevich. Minsk responded by saying that it acted in line with international aviation rules and on Tuesday published the script of its air traffic controllers' conversation with the pilot of the Ryanair flight, which proved that no pressure was put on the crew to land in Minsk.
This is not the first time a plane was grounded at the request of a third country. In 2013, the plane of Bolivia's then-president Evo Morales was directed by Austria to make an emergency landing at the behest of the United States, during the hunt for National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. The former NSA contractor was never on board, though.