Less than a week after the hijacking of a plane by Belarus to arrest an opponent, relations are strained between the European Union (EU) and Russia. An Air France flight that was to connect Paris to Moscow was canceled on Friday, May 28, for lack of a green light from Russia for a change of route intended to avoid Belarusian airspace.
“Air France confirms the cancellation of flight AF 1154 (…) for operational reasons linked to bypassing Belarusian airspace requiring a new authorization from the Russian authorities to enter their territory ”, the French airline told Agence France-Presse (AFP). Air France passengers on board have “Been informed of the cancellation and are offered the postponement on a flight operated by the company Aeroflot or the reimbursement of their trip”, the company said.
Another flight was canceled on Wednesday for the same reasons, leading French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari to call on Russia to respect the “Principle of reciprocity” governing bilateral relations.
“These are technical questions”
The EU decided on Monday to close its airspace and airports to airplanes from Belarus and to recommend that European companies avoid the country’s airspace. A decision which followed the interception, Sunday, of a plane of the company Ryanair connecting Athens to Vilnius, in which was the opponent of the Belarusian regime Roman Protassevich.
According to the European air traffic monitoring body Eurocontrol, flights between Europe and Russia “Have permission to use defined air corridors. If a company wants to change these routes, there must be a prior agreement between the company concerned and Russia ”. But since the EU decision, three flights from European capitals to Moscow, including the Air France flight on Friday, have been canceled for lack of authorization for new journeys.
The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, asked on Friday whether the obstacles put by Russia to air links were ad hoc or whether it was a political decision. Moscow replied that the cancellation of these flights was solely due to “Technical questions”. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “When planes (…) bypass Belarus, they ask to fly to different places which are absolutely not coordinated, which leads to technical problems ”, assuring in passing that Russia had “No reason to have new problems” with the EU.
For its part, the Russian federal agency in charge of air transport, Rosaviatsia, said in a statement on Thursday that “Increased time needed” to grant new flight authorizations was due to “The increase in the number of airline requests”.