DIPLOMATIC TENSIONS

EU flights to Moscow scrapped after Russia denies landing clearance

Air France said it cancelled a second flight from Paris to Moscow after authorities in Russia rejected a flight plan that skipped over Belarusian airspace.
Air France said it cancelled a second flight from Paris to Moscow after authorities in Russia rejected a flight plan that skipped over Belarusian airspace. AFP - ODD ANDERSEN

Tensions between the European Union and Russia escalated Friday after authorities in Moscow rejected the flight plan of an Air France carrier that skipped over Belarusian airspace.

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Air France said it Flight AF1154 Paris to Moscow was scrapped both Thursday and Friday. 

Meanwhile an Austrian Airlines service from Vienna, whose flight plan was rerouted to avoid Belarus, was also cancelled after Russia failed to provide clearance. 

The Austrian carrier said it had now suspended all flights through Belarusian airspace until further notice.

The EU Aviation Safety Agency has been urging airlines not to fly over Belarus after authorities there diverted a Ryanair plane and arrested an opposition activist on board.

Belarusian carriers were equally banned from entering European airspace.

EU 'watching'

​​EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was monitoring whether Russia was systematically refusing to allow European airlines to land if they avoided Belarus.

"We don't know if it is case by case, specific cases, or is a general norm from the Russian authorities in order to make the European planes overfly Belarus," he told journalists.

"There were a couple of cases. Some planes that couldn't land, couldn't take off. But frankly speaking, we have to wait and see in order to take measures."

Lufthansa flights to Moscow and Saint Petersburg were reportedly still being allowed to land.

Belarus hits back

In the face of global outcry, Belarus defended its forced diversion of the Ryanair flight – which was carrying dissident journalist Roman Protasevichan.

Belarus's foreign ministry insisted the country had acted legally and accused the western nations of trying to play politics.

"There is no doubt that the actions of our competent authorities ... fully met established international rules," ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz said in a statement, accusing the west of "politicising" the situation.

"Unfounded accusations are being made," he added.

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