Turkey Fails to Convince Russia to Lift Flight Ban
Turkey's top-level delegation fails to get flights, banned after Erdogan went to Ukraine and fanned the flames, resumed
A delegation of senior Turkish officials failed to persuade Russia to lift a one-and-a-half-month ban on flights to Turkey that was instituted by Moscow at the end of May amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. The move dealt a major blow to Turkey’s faltering tourism industry, which in normal times accounts for around 12% of its GDP. Russians are among the top visitors, with around half a million of them traveling to Turkey in the first quarter of this year. But the total number of tourists dropped by 54% year on year.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dispatched Ibrahim Kalin, a top adviser, along with Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy to Russia Monday to resolve the issue. But Russia has extended the ban, which was set to ease on June 1, by a further two weeks, Bloomberg reported. Russia’s national career Aeroflot said in a statement that it had stopped sales and canceled all flights to Turkey for June “with the exception of two flights per week permitted by the [COVID-19] task force so as not to inconvenience passengers.”
New coronavirus cases have according to official data markedly declined since a three-week lockdown ended May 18 was imposed.
The extension of the flight ban has spurred speculation that Russia is signaling its displeasure to Turkey over its strong support for Ukraine over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the Donbass, where Russian-backed militias are battling Ukrainian government forces.
Turkey’s deepening military cooperation with Ukraine, including the sale of armed drones that helped Ankara tip the balance in favor of its allies in conflicts in Libya and Azerbaijan, has also raised Moscow’s hackles. But Western diplomats say the drones will have little if any impact at all on Russia, which recently massed its forces along Ukraine’s eastern border. Besides, Ukraine has zero appetite for provoking a military confrontation with Russia. [LOL, since when?]
The purchase is more about greasing relations for Turkey, whose diplomatic support as a major Black Sea power is key.