Ukraine-Russia flights grounded in latest spat

KIEV • Direct flights between Ukraine and Russia were grounded yesterday as mistrust between the uneasy ex-Soviet neighbours boiled over into a new trade war that affects tens of thousands of families.

"I never thought it would come to this," said Muscovite Alexander Mikhaylin, 30, after walking off the last Russian flight into Kiev's Boryspil airport last Saturday night.

"Of course, it will make life more difficult," the IT specialist said, while still clutching his Russian passport after passing the Customs zone. "These were the cheapest and most convenient tickets."

Russia and Ukraine share a long history and a fierce animosity sparked by months of 2013-2014 winter protests that ousted then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and brought a strongly pro-Western leadership to power.

Ukraine's decision to escape Moscow's orbit set off a bloody chain of events that included Russia's seizure of Crimea last year and the 18-month eastern separatist conflict that has killed at least 8,000 people.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denied choreographing the eastern revolt in reprisal for the change of heart in Ukraine, which Moscow saw as part of a new geopolitical bloc to rival the European Union and eventually Nato. But he later admitted that the entire operation had been planned well in advance.

The flight spat started with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's announcement last month that Russian airlines would soon be barred from landing in Ukraine because of Moscow's refusal to hand back Crimea.

Russia denounced the decision as "madness" before taking similar measures this month.

A desperate round of negotiations between the two sides in Brussels last Friday ended without any immediate solution in sight.

Russian authorities estimated about 800,000 people flew between the two countries in the first eight months of the year.

They added that at least 70 per cent were Ukrainians visiting Russian relatives and it was Kiev's main airline that was likely to be financially hurt the most by the air blockade. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2015, with the headline 'Ukraine-Russia flights grounded in latest spat'. Print Edition | Subscribe