Russia Warns Airlines of Possible Halt to Turkey Charter Flights

  • Threat comes amid renewed Turkey-Russia rift over Syria
  • Tourist numbers in Turkey plummeted after previous ban in 2015

Russia has warned airlines it may again halt charter flights to Turkey, a Russian travel industry lobby group said, as tensions between the two countries intensified over events in Syria.

Charter flights between Russia and Turkey were restored in August last year, after they we were stopped in late 2015 following Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border. The number of Russian visitors to Turkey fell to 866,000 in 2016, from 3.65 million a year earlier and 4.5 million in 2014.

“If it happens, the consequences will be worse than in 2015,” Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Tourist Industry Union, said by phone on Monday. The last ban was imposed after the end of the tourism peak season, while there are currently four to five times more orders for charter flights than in 2016, she said.

Turkey and Russia are at odds over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey welcomed the U.S. missile strike on Syria last week and has urged the creation of a no-fly zone to protect civilians, calling for Assad’s ouster as soon as possible. Though the two countries have been working together in recent months on a cease-fire in Syria, Russia backs the Syrian leader and Turkey’s stance threatens that cooperation.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is trying to put pressure on his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the threat, according to Alexei Malashenko, a Moscow-based Middle East expert at the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute.

Prior to last year, Russia was second to Germany as a source of visitors to Turkey, which depends on tourism for 6.2 percent of economic output and 8 percent of employment.

“But it won’t work,” Malashenko said by phone. “Nothing will work with Erdogan, because he’s a Turkish version of Putin.” A ban would only worsen the situation because ties will again be broken, and Turkey will stop any cooperation on Syria, he said by phone.

Russia has lifted most of the measures it imposed in retaliation for the 2015 incident, though a continued ban on Turkish tomatoes has provoked friction and a Turkish counter-move to effectively bar imports of Russian wheat.

— With assistance by Jake Rudnitsky

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