- Flights won't resume soon amid security worries, premier says
- Travel ban may cost tour operators $200 million, group warns
Russia’s ban on flights to Egypt won’t be lifted quickly amid concerns that terrorists were responsible for bringing down an aircraft and killing 224 people, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said.
“The chance it was a terrorist act, obviously, remains as an explanation for what happened,” Medvedev said, according to a transcript of an interview by state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper on Monday. “That’s why this decision was made” to halt flights “on the basis of recommendations and materials prepared by the anti-terrorism committee,” he said.
Medvedev is the first senior Russian official to declare that terrorism may have caused the Metrojet aircraft to crash in the Sinai peninsula after it left the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Oct. 31 bound for St. Petersburg. Russia has said until now that it has no evidence to support assertions by the U.S., the U.K. and France that a bomb may have been responsible, though officials say investigators are exploring all possible causes.
President Vladimir Putin ordered a halt to Russian flights to Egypt on Friday to ensure “the safety of our citizens” after a recommendation by security officials, his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters. An Islamic State affiliate has claimed it blew up the aircraft in retaliation for Russian bombing in Syria. Russia began air strikes Sept. 30 against Islamic State and other militants fighting the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
The ban on flights won’t be lifted soon and “it will take time to ensure security for a vacation in Egypt,” Medvedev said earlier Monday at a meeting with his deputies outside Moscow. “Let’s not indulge in illusions, this won’t be a short period.”
Russia brought some 25,000 tourists home from Egypt on more than 100 flights since the ban was imposed, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told the same meeting. The remaining tourists should be back within two weeks, he said.
Egypt has said it has no evidence so far that a bomb caused the crash, though investigators are probing a last-second noise heard on the flight data recorder. The U.K. banned commercial flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea after the incident, while Norway, Finland and Denmark have advised against all non-essential trips.
Losses for tour operators may reach $200 million if the ban on flights remains in force for two or three months, including the busiest season of New Year holidays, the Russian tourism lobby group ATOR said in a statement Monday. Operators are seeking state guarantees on loans to be able to compensate tourists who can’t fly to Egypt after the ban, it said.
Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria is proving the effectiveness of its military, Putin said at a meeting with defense-industry officials in Sochi on Monday.
“Timely measures increased the combat readiness, combat capabilities of our armed forces,” Putin said. “This is strongly confirmed by the anti-terrorist operation we’re conducting at the request of the Syrian leadership.”