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Russian airlines cancel flights to Turkey

Moscow's restrictions hamper Ottoman tourism industry
An Airbus A350-900 of Russia's flagship airline Aeroflot at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow.

REUTERS/MAXIM SHEMETOV  -   An Airbus A350-900 of Russia's flagship airline Aeroflot at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow

Two major Russian airlines, S7 Airlines and Aeroflot, announced this week that they will cancel commercial flights to Turkey from 1 June. The Russian government's hesitancy to lift restrictions due to COVID-19 has forced both airlines to take the step of maintaining the blockade because of possible financial losses.

"We have suspended sales and cancelled all flights to Turkey for the month of June, with the exception of two flights per week permitted by the [COVID-19] working group in order not to inconvenience passengers due to possible cancellations," Aeroflot announced in a statement on Monday. Just 24 hours later, S7 Airlines followed suit. "We will be ready to resume sales as soon as the epidemiological situation stabilises and flights resume," the airline said.

Moscow has reportedly decided to extend the restrictions until 30 June, although there is no official confirmation from the government so far. Faced with this situation, airlines have opted not to take any risks and have officially ceased flights to Turkey. Currently, the restrictions imposed by Russia allow only two return flights per week.

Dos de las principales aerolíneas rusas, S7 Airlines y Aeroflot, han anunciado esta misma semana la cancelación de los vuelos comerciales a Turquía a partir del 1 de junio
AP/RICK BOWMER - Two major Russian airlines, S7 Airlines and Aeroflot, announced this week that they will cancel commercial flights to Turkey from 1 June.

Aeroflot added that it will wait for the Russian government's final decision before officially cancelling commercial flights any longer. Moreover, if Moscow lifts the restrictions on 1 June, both Aeroflot and S7 would probably resume operations as soon as possible. With the possible lifting, Ottoman carrier Turkish Airlines could also resume operations in Russia.

Moscow's official reason for maintaining the restrictions, announced last April, is the growing number of cases of COVID-19 in Turkey. However, the timing of the Kremlin's announcement seems to point in a different direction, as the Russian government announced the new restrictions only two days after the bilateral meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymir Zelensky. 

Relations between Kiev and Moscow are completely ruptured by the ongoing conflicts in Donbass and Crimea. Erdogan took the opportunity to add fuel to the fire and reaffirmed Ankara's defence of 'Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty'. He also underlined his decision not to recognise Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula. Moreover, Ukrainian and Turkish representatives agreed on increased defence cooperation, a development that did not sit well with the Kremlin.

El presidente turco Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Derecha) posando con el presidente de Ucrania Volodymyr Zelensky en la residencia presidencial Huber Mansion en Estambul, el 10 de abril de 2021
AFP PHOTO/TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) poses with Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky at the Huber Mansion presidential residence in Istanbul, 10 April 2021.
Another setback for the Turkish economy

Moscow's decision to suspend flights has dealt a blow to the Ottoman tourism sector, which is heavily dependent on Russian tourists. Up to 500,000 people from Russia travelled to Turkey in the first quarter of the year, according to the Russian Association of Tour Operators.

Turkey's already hard-hit economy is facing the most pressing months of the crisis. For this reason, Turkey's Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, has travelled to Russia accompanied by an entourage with the aim of persuading the Russian government to lift the restrictions. Nuri Ersoy himself confirmed that the country will reopen its doors to tourists from June in order to revive tourism.

El ministro turco de Turismo, Mehmet Nuri Ersoy
AFP/OZEN KOSE - Turkish Minister of Tourism, Mehmet Nuri Ersoy

President Erdogan's top advisor, Ibrahim Kalin, was one of the members of the delegation that travelled to Russia. Anadolu Agency reports that the reason for his presence was also to arrange for the delivery of vaccines. "We have reached an agreement for the Russian vaccine to arrive in Turkey as soon as possible, as well as the steps to be taken for the tourist season, the start of flights and the acceleration of the process," said Kalin.