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Russia May Block Western Flights to Asia

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Russia May Block Western Flights to Asia

Russia may prohibit U.S. and EU airlines from traveling through its airspace on flights to and from the Asia-Pacific.

Russia is considering blocking off its airspace to Western airliners flying to the Asia-Pacific, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced on Thursday.

According to the state-run ITAR-TASS, Prime Minister Medvedev told the cabinet on Thursday that the government is drawing up various measures to block European and American airliners from transiting Russian airspace on their way to or from the Asia-Pacific. Medvedev said that the measures, if adopted, would be in retaliation for European Union sanctions against Dobrolyot, a low cost subsidiary of Russia’s largest airline, Aeroflot.

“The current situation as it is, the Russian government is considering a number of retaliatory steps… The measures include a ban on transit flights by European and U.S. air carriers to Southeast Asia, to the Asia-Pacific Region,” Medvedev said, according to ITAR-TASS. The prime minister clarified that he was not suggesting that the measures would be implemented at once. He did announce that Russia had already closed off its airspace to certain Ukrainian flights.

Regarding a possible European ban, Medvedev elaborated, “Our country is ready to revise the rules of using Trans-Siberian routes, that is, denounce the agreed principles of upgrading the existing system of Trans-Siberian routes.”

Earlier this week, Russian newspapers suggested that Moscow might close off the Trans-Siberian route to European carriers. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had initially denied those reports, however. The Trans-Siberian route used to be closed to foreign airliners but has since been reopened, and Russia collects significant revenue from European airlines who used the route.

The impact of closing the Trans-Siberian route to European carriers would also be mostly limited. As Bloomberg News noted: “Service from Europe to Japan and South Korea could be most affected [if the Trans-Siberian route was closed], an analysis of routings on the Flightradar24 website shows. At the same time, relatively few carriers cross eastern Russia, in contrast with more crowded skies closer to Moscow.”

It was unclear from the ITAR-TASS report if Russia is only considering measures to close the Trans-Siberian route, or rather if all of Russian airspace would be closed to Western airliners. However, Medvedev’s mention of Southeast Asia suggests Russia is considering the more extensive ban.

Separately on Thursday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vasily Nebenzya said that Moscow is looking to strengthen its ties to Asia-Pacific nations.

“For us, the Asia-Pacific region is becoming particularly important in the current geopolitical situation. We do not intend to abandon co-operation with our traditional partners, though they are doing much themselves to curtail, freeze and impose sanctions on this co-operation. However, we have always faced a task to diversify our economic activity. Now with due account of the current situation we will work on this more actively,” Nebenzya said, ITAR-TASS reported.

He made the comments while in Bangkok, Thailand for the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). Nebenzya also said the the recently created BRICS bank would greatly benefit the Asia-Pacific region.