Austria slams Russia over cancelled Vienna-Moscow flight

Austria criticised Russia on Thursday after it refused to allow an Austrian Airlines flight to be rerouted to avoid Belarusian airspace, resulting in the Vienna-Moscow service being cancelled.

Austria slams Russia over cancelled Vienna-Moscow flight
(Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Austria’s foreign ministry said Russia’s refusal to allow the route change was “absolutely incomprehensible”, urging it “not to artificially impede free air traffic between Russia and Europe”.

“It is in the interests of both Austria and Russia that all flights to and via Russia can continue to be carried out without any problems,” the ministry said in a statement to AFP.

Russian authorities had ‘not approved’ route change

Austrian Airlines cancelled the Vienna-Moscow flight on Thursday, saying Russian authorities had not approved a route change allowing the plane to avoid Belarusian airspace. The airline said it had suspended flights over Belarusian airspace in line with a recommendation by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), making a route change for the Vienna-Moscow flight necessary.

“A change in flight routes must be approved by the authorities.

“The Russian authorities did not give us this permission,” the airline said in a statement to AFP.

It added it was not yet clear if the next flight would be able to take place. A Moscow-Vienna flight is scheduled for Friday.

Passengers on the cancelled flight were rebooked, the airline said.

Russia’s transport ministry told AFP that it had “no comment for now”.

Global fury

Belarus sparked global fury by diverting an Athens-to-Vilnius Ryanair plane on Sunday and arresting an exiled dissident in Minsk.

In response, EU leaders on Monday decided to ban Belarusian carriers from European airspace and airports as well as recommending that EU carriers should also avoid Belarusian airspace.

Austrian Airlines is part of Germany’s Lufthansa group. Lufthansa confirmed to AFP that all its airlines were “currently avoiding Belarusian airspace”. Scheduled flights to Moscow and Saint Petersburg continued, it said.

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‘East-West bridge-builder’ Austria won’t expel Russian diplomats

Austria said on Monday that it would not follow a number of other EU countries in expelling Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, stressing its neutrality.

'East-West bridge-builder' Austria won't expel Russian diplomats
Investigators work in the garden of Sergei Skripal's house in Salisbury, southern England, on March 22nd 2018. Photo: AFP

“We stand behind the decision to recall the EU ambassador, but we will not take any national measures,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl said in a joint statement.

“Indeed, we want to keep the channels of communication to Russia open,” they added. “Austria is a neutral country and sees itself as a bridge-builder between East and West.”

Fourteen European Union countries are to expel a total of 30 Russian diplomats in a coordinated international response to Moscow over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury, according to an AFP tally.

Germany, France and Poland led the way with four expulsions each and EU President Donald Tusk warned that more diplomats could be thrown out in the coming days.

Austria is a member of the European Union but is officially neutral and is not part of the Nato military alliance.

The right-wing Kurz visited Russia in late February and his coalition partners, the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), have a “cooperation pact” with President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party.

Slovakia, while condemning the Skripal poisoning, also said it was not throwing out Russian diplomats at present but will summon the Russian ambassador “without delay”.

“The development of the situation, as well as Russia's response to the calls addressed to it by the EU countries — including Slovakia — will influence the next steps that we are prepared to consider in this case,” the Slovakian foreign ministry said.