UPDATED: Russia to allow European flights to bypass Belarus, Ukraine to ban Belarus airlines from its airspace

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Russia will allow European flights to arrive and depart via routes that bypass Belarusian airspace, the RBC news outlet reported late on Thursday, despite Moscow previously denying access to two carriers that skirted Belarus en route to Moscow.

Russia on Thursday withheld clearance for an Austrian Airlines Vienna-Moscow flight plan avoiding Belarus – a day after failing to approve a revised Air France Paris-Moscow route. Both flights were cancelled.

It did allow an Austrian Airlines Vienna-Moscow flight to bypass Belarusian airspace on Friday however, the TASS news agency cited the company as saying, and allowed in other foreign carriers on Thursday.

The European Union has urged its airlines to avoid Belarus and has moved to close its own airspace to Belarusian carriers amid outrage over Sunday’s interception of a Ryanair jet en route to Lithuania from Greece, and the arrest of a dissident journalist on board.

Russia’s refusal to allow some flights skirting Belarus to enter its airspace since then fuelled speculation that Moscow might be mulling a blanket ban on such flights to support Belarus, a close ally.

But the RBC daily, citing a source close to the Ministry of Transport, said Russia would soon formally authorise flights to and from Moscow that bypass Belarus.

The earlier problems were down to the technical need to work out new routes, it reported.

Russia’s federal aviation agency Rosaviatsiya held a meeting to discuss the permissions on Thursday evening, another source told RBC.

Rosaviatsiya was not immediately able to comment when asked about the report. The transport ministry declined to comment.

Meanwhile in other developments:

  • Ukraine will ban Belarus-registered planes from using its airspace from May 29, the infrastructure ministry said on Friday.

Ukraine had banned flights to and from Belarus from Wednesday, following the forced landing of a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania at the weekend and the arrest of a dissident Belarusian journalist on board.

“The government has tightened ‘air sanctions’ against Belarusian airlines,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Restrictions on flights in Belarusian airspace and transit flights for Belarusian companies are necessary steps to ensure the safety of aviation and passengers,” it said.

Earlier this week Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said that Ukraine’s airlines were not allowed to transit through Belarus airspace.

The European Union leaders this week directed officials to draw up new sanctions against Belarus and work out a way to ban Belarusian airlines from the bloc’s skies.

There is a risk of an escalation after Moscow forced an Austrian plane to cancel a flight to the Russian capital on Thursday by withholding flight permission, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Friday.

“It was a big disturbance for air traffic but we still don’t know if these are specific cases or if it is a general move by the Russian authorities,” Borrell told reporters ahead of an EU defence ministers meeting in Lisbon.

  • The head of a group representing most global airlines welcomed an international investigation into the forced landing of a Ryanair jetliner in Belarus and said the world must ensure such incidents never happen again.

“That sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable and must be strongly condemned. We must have measures to ensure that that can’t happen again,” Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, told Reuters.