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Russian Authorities Tell Airlines To Expect Delays Due To Belarusian Airspace Ban

Austrian Airlines said it had canceled a Vienna-Moscow flight after Russia failed to approve a new flight plan that also avoided Belarusian airspace. (file photo)

Russia's state air transport agency says changes to routes from Europe to Russia as a result of the dispute between the West and Belarus over the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight to Minsk may result in longer clearance times.

Rosaviatsiya said in a statement on May 28 that it had informed airlines to expect delays after Russia denied access to two European carriers that amended flight plans to skirt Belarus en route to Moscow.

EU leaders have asked European carriers to avoid Belarusian airspace after the incident on May 23. A Belarusian dissident journalist was arrested upon arrival, triggering international outrage.

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The European airspace ban has forced Belarus's flagship carrier Belavia to lay off some employees and cancel flights to at least seven European countries and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to discuss the unfolding crisis with Belarus's strongman leader, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in the Russian resort of Sochi on May 28.

Speaking on May 28 in Lisbon, where European Union foreign ministers are discussing possible economic sanctions against Belarus in response to the diversion of the Ryanair plane, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned there was a risk of an escalation in the crisis after Moscow denied access to Air France and Austrian Airlines flights.

"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.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said the cancellations of European flights to Moscow were due to “technical reasons,” adding that the measures were taken to ensure aviation safety.

"The aviation authorities are working hard these days. Indeed, the situation is out of the ordinary. Of course, we would prefer that such situations did not arise," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova struck a harsher tone, accusing Western countries in a Facebook post of being “completely irresponsible” and endangering passengers by banning flights over Belarus.

Air France said it had canceled two flights from Paris to Moscow this week after Russia rejected a flight plan that would have skipped Belarusian airspace.

Austrian Airlines said on May 27 that it had canceled a Vienna-Moscow flight after Russia failed to approve a new flight plan that also avoided Belarusian airspace.

The TASS news agency reported that an Austrian Airlines flight on May 28 was given approval to fly to Moscow while avoiding Belarusian airspace, while others had been given permission to fly the route a day earlier.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and TASS
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