The Ukrainian government said Friday that it will close its airports next month to Russia’s largest airlines, including the regional leader, Aeroflot, according to a published statement and government officials.
If the closure is enforced, it would create considerable headaches for travelers in the region, and add new fuel to a military and political conflict between Moscow and Kiev that has been raging for more than a year.
The Russian government threatened to retaliate Friday by banning Ukrainian airlines, a decision that Russia’s Minister of Transport said could “lead to the factual halt of air travel between the two countries.”
Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea last year, and has been accused of providing men and materiel to separatists fighting the government in Ukraine’s southeast. The conflict has spilled over into the economy, affecting cross-border travel and trade.
Ukrainian President Petro O. Poroshenko signed sanctions into law this month against 388 individuals and 105 companies, including several dozen airlines.
“Airlines with the Russian tricolor have no reason to be in Ukrainian airports,” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the Ukrainian government cabinet Friday, said the statement posted on a government Web site
It also banned Russian planes bearing soldiers or military cargo from flying through Ukraine’s airspace, and blocked government agencies from using software produced by the Russian antivirus maker Kaspersky Labs.
A spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Ministry of Infrastructure confirmed that the ban would begin Oct. 25, the “beginning of the winter navigation period,” and that all Russian airlines would be notified Friday about the closure.
A spokeswoman for Sheremyetevo airport in Moscow said she was aware of the order, but that no orders to cancel flights had been made.
In an e-mailed statement Friday morning, Aeroflot said it had “not received official notification about halting flights from the Ukrainian aviation authorities.”
“According to international aviation laws, only the aviation authorities of the government may cancel flights into the country,” the statement continued. “As soon as Aeroflot receives an official notification from Ukraine’s aviation authorities to cancel flights, the company will inform its passengers about this.”
Aeroflot and Transaero, another Russian national airline banned by name in the Ukrainian statement, fly more than a half-dozen flights from Moscow to Kiev every day.
Fighting has died down in southeast Ukraine in recent weeks, but progress on the Minsk Accords, as the political settlement process is called, has come to a standstill.
Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with the French and German leaders in Paris on Oct. 2 for further talks on a political settlement.
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