27 May 2021 — Moon of Alabama
We yesterday looked at the record of Roman Protasevich, the western financed neo-nazi arrested on Sunday in Belarus. Another still open issue is how the incident developed.
Protasevich was arrested after a plane he was flying on from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Minsk due to a bomb thread. There had been an open warrant of arrest against Protasevich which was enforced as he entered the country. NEXTA, the regime change organization in Poland where Protasevich had previously worked to organize a coup in Belarus, had doxxed policemen in Belarus and thereby endangered their families.
The Aviation Department of the Belorussian Ministry for Transport and Communication has published its official report of the incident. It is written in Russian and English language (scroll down for the English version). The report includes what seems to be the full transcript of the radio traffic between the plane and the air traffic control.
The report and the transcript debunk a number of false claims made in the ‘western’ reporting on the issue.
The main facts:
Department of Aviation in accordance with the requirements of Standards 5.2.5 and 5.3.1 of Annex 17 to the Convention on the International Civil Aviation, the Department of Aviation informs about the fact of an act of unlawful interference in the activities of civil aviation on the territory of the Republic of Belarus.
On May 23, 2021, a written message with the following content in English was sent to the e-mail of the National Airport Minsk from the e-mail address protonmail.com:
“We, Hamas soldiers, demand that Israel cease fire in the Gaza Strip. We demand that the European Union abandon its support for Israel in this war. We know that the participants of Delphi Economic Forum are returning home on May 23 via flight FR4978. A bomb has been planted onto this aircraft. If you don’t meet our demands the bomb will explode on May 23 over Vilnius. Allahu Akbar.”
Taking into account the seriousness of the threat received, the information from the National Airport Minsk was forwarded to the relevant air traffic control services of Belaeronavigatsia State-Owned-Enterprise.
In accordance with the requirements of the Annex 17 to the Chicago Convention and the National Program for the Protection of Civil Aviation from Acts of Unlawful Interference in the Republic of Belarus, a response actions mechanism was put into effect in connection with acts of unlawful interference in the civil aviation activity.
The flight FR4978 en route Athens (Greece) – Vilnius (Lithuania), operated on a Boeing 737-800 by Ryanair. The aircraft departed from Athens airport at 07.10 UTC (10.10 Belarusian time), entered into the Republic of Belarus airspace under the control of the Minsk ACC at 09.30 UTC (12.30 Belarusian time). The entry point into the airspace of the Minsk FIR was SOMAT.
Some comments on this:
The report is ‘by the book’ as it should be.
Protonmail, from where the email was received, is a encrypted web-email service hosted in Switzerland which allows more or less anonymous traffic.
An alleged screenshot of the email currently gets peddled around by the Editor-in-Chief of NEXTA:
Tadeusz Giczan @TadeuszGiczan –
Not that anyone had any doubts but ‘Hamas email’ was sent to Minsk airport 24 minutes after Belarusian air controllers warned Ryanair pilots there’s a bomb onboard.
Giczan is right in that the time shown in the screenshot is inconsistent with the timing of the Ryanair flight in the Belorussian airspace.
That however proves nothing. Time stamps in emails are notoriously unreliable as they depend on various computer timezone settings and several other variables.
Clocks, computers and phones in Switzerland are currently set to UTC(GMT)+2 hours. Clocks, computers and phones in Belarus to UTC+3. A email sent at 10:57 Geneva time would likely show up as sent at 11:57 in Minsk time. However, if the timezone of the computer/phone that is used to look at the email is set to UTC+4 the email time would be shown as 12:57.
Nice trick Mr. Nexta but that screenshot is unconvincing.
The content of the email is not convincing as a threat. The demand for a ceasefire in Gaza is nonsense as one was already in place since May 21. The mentioning of the Delphi Economic Forum in Greece is of interest. Roman Protasevich had taken part in it and was on his way back to Vilnius. Why was that explicitly mentioned? If Belarus used the email as a trick to catch Protasevich why mention the Delphi Forum in the threat email?
The last sentence of the email is of high interest because it decided where the plan would land: “If you don’t meet our demands the bomb will explode on May 23 over Vilnius.”
In previous incidents of bombs on civil aircraft these were either set off by a timer or by a barometer (pressure = height over ground). That the extortionist would name a specific location for the bomb explosion can only mean that the bomb would be set off by a GPS device. This explains why the pilots decided to diverted to Minsk instead of finishing the much shorter leg to Vilnius.
The pilots decided to go to Minsk because the risk of a potential bomb going off over Vilnius, as announced in the email, was high.
The transcript of the radio traffic shows that the pilots, not the authorities in Belarus, made that decision.
Pilot: OK, I give you (unreadable) can you say again IATA code of the airport that authorities have recommended us to divert to?
ATC: RYR 1TZ Standby.
Pilot: Standby, Roger.
ATC :09:41:00: RYR 1TZ .
Pilot: Go ahead.
ATC: IATA code is MSQ.
Pilot: can you say again please?
ATC:IATA code MSQ.
Pilot: MSQ, thanks.
Pilot: 09:41:58: RYR 1TZ Again, this recommendation to divert to Minsk where did it come from? Where did it come from? Company? Did it come from departure airport authorities or arrival airport authorities
ATC: RYR 1TZ this is our recommendations.
Pilot:09:47:12: RYR 1TZ we are declaring an emergency MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY RYR 1TZ. our intentions would be to divert to Minsk airport
ATC: RYR 1TZ MAYDAY, Roger. Standby for vectors.
Pilot: Standby RYR 1TZ.
Pilot: 09:48:10 RYR 1TZ request descent to 10000 feet.
ATC: RYR 1TZ , descend FL100.
Pilot: descend (unreadable) RYR 1TZ.
I am convinced that the radio transcript as presented by the Belorussian air authority is complete and that nothing in it is fake. Air control radio traffic is not encrypted and lots of amateurs constantly record it. The Cockpit Voice Recorder of the Ryanair machine will also have a full copy of the talk.
Reportedly the Belorussian airforce sent up fighter jet to watch over the Ryanair flight. The Ryanair pilots were not made aware of that. There is no mention of it in the radio traffic transcript.
Sending up fighter jets to watch over planes under bomb or hijacking threat is however a standard operation procedure.
On July 14 2020 a bomb threat was made against a Ryanair flight from Krakow to Dublin. The plane made an emergency landing in Stansted:
The security scare on a Ryanair flight which sparked the RAF to scramble two fighter jets was due to a note claiming there was bomb on board the plane, airline bosses revealed last night.
Just three days later another Ryanair flight came under thread:
A 51-year-old British man has been arrested after a Ryanair flight from London to Oslo received a bomb threat.
Danish F-16 military aircraft were scrambled to escort the plane to Gardermoen Airport – the main international airport in Norway.
In a statement, police said the situation is now under control and the aircraft will now be examined by the emergency squad and bomb group.
It seems to me that the Belorussian authorities did everything by the book. Like in Norway the aircraft, its cargo and the passengers were examined by an emergency bomb squad. Here is how that looked in Minsk.
After the plane was declared clear by the bomb squad the authorities let the passengers board and leave to their original destination. Roman Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend, who had had a role in his regime-change efforts, were taken under arrest. At least one other passenger, who had originally planned to fly from Greece to Minsk with only a stopover in Vilnius, also went from board. Earlier speculations of KGB agents leaving the plane in Minsk have not been confirmed.
The aviation department report closes with this:
The Department of Aviation also wants to assure that the Belarusian aviation authorities, aviation organizations and the relevant law enforcement agencies of the state have taken and will continue to take the necessary measures and actions provided for by international and national legislation aimed at ensuring reliable protection of civil aviation from acts of unlawful interference.
For further consideration of the circumstances the Department of Aviation has invited representatives of ICAO, IATA, EASA, and EU and USA Civil Aviation Authorities.
Those international organizations should accept the invitation and take a deeper look at the issue. They should talk to the pilots and listen to the radio traffic as recorded by the cockpit voice recorder. I am convinced that they will find that everything happened exactly as the Belorussian authorities said. They received a bomb threat against the plane, informed the pilot and recommended to land in Minsk. The pilot weighted the circumstances and decided correctly to follow the advise.
There is only one big question for which we have yet to find an answer.
Who send the email that led to all this and for which purpose?
One can easily construe motives for both sides.
A. Belarus secret services wanted to capture Roman Protasevich no matter what and sent the email. They were willing to accept the predictable sanctions that would follow such a move.
B. The regime change gang that met in Greece wanted new attention and fresh sanctions on Belarus. Someone in the team sent the email. The group was willing to accept a few years of jail time for Protasevich who might or might not have been in on this.
I have no further evidence to decide if A or B is right. There is however a lot of historic evidence that ‘western’ supported regime-changers are extremely ruthless and willing to play with the lives and well fare of other people. My stomach feeling tends therefore to B.
In light of the above it is quite curious (but not astonishing) that ‘western’ governments are now pressing their airlines to avoid Belorussian airspace.
Russia, Belarus’ big ally, is currently responding to that measure by prohibiting flights that avoid Belarussian from entering Russian airspace. A lot of flight schedules will have to change if this nonsense continues.