The Ukrainian government has banned all unscheduled direct flights to Russia following a recent visit to Moscow by two opposition politicians.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced the ban on Wednesday and said opposition presidential candidate Yuriy Boyko and chairman of the political council of the ‘Opposition Platform – For Life’ alliance Viktor Medvedchuk had used a “loophole in our legislation” to take a direct flight to the Russian capital back in March.
The two Ukrainian opposition figures met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Alexey Miller, the CEO of the Gazprom energy giant, on March 22 prior to the presidential election, for talks on ways to restore economic ties.
“He [Boyko] took advantage of a loophole in our legislation, got the green light from Russia’s FSB (Federal Security Service), and flew from Kiev to Moscow for talks with the aggressor state’s prime minister. Therefore, we propose a resolution to amend regulations on the use of the Ukrainian airspace,” Ukrainian media cited Avakov as saying.
Direct flights between Russia and Ukraine were canceled in October 2015 as part of a mutual ban imposed by Kiev and Moscow, a year after a bloody crisis broke out in Ukraine’s eastern Russian-speaking regions, where the military has been fighting with pro-Russia forces.
The Ukrainian minister further said the ban would not apply to flights that might be arranged for international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations and the Red Cross.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman also said: “these restrictions will remain in place until Russia…ceases to be an aggressor country and turns into a civilized state.”
Opposition blasts ‘absurd’ ban
The Opposition Platform – For Life party lambasted the cabinet’s “absurd” decision in a statement issued on Wednesday.
“The Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers of Groysman is in agony, just like the authorities, and are fully aware that the negotiations between Viktor Medvedchuk, Yuri Boyko and Russian top officials have every chance of being successful, which will, in turn, lead to a tariff reduction for ordinary Ukrainians and the inevitable prosecution of officials who enrich themselves using corruption schemes,” the statement read.
The opposition said it considered the ban as an attempt to impose “personal sanctions” against Boyko and Medvedchuk and to take revenge for their political stance “instead of addressing the raging issues of reducing utility bills for the public, ensuring social protection for the citizenry and normalizing the economic situation in Ukraine.”
Moscow-Kiev relations have been strained since 2014, when a wave of protests in Ukraine overthrew a democratically-elected pro-Russia government and replaced it with a pro-West administration, prompting armed confrontations in the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine’s east, where the majority have refused to endorse the new administration.
Kiev and its Western allies accuse Moscow of having a hand in the crisis. Moscow, however, denies the allegations.
Ties between the two sides plunged to a record low later in 2014 after people in the Black Sea Crimea Peninsula voted in a referendum to separate from Ukraine and reunite with the Russian Federation. Kiev and its allies, however, view the reunification as an annexation of the territory by Russia.