KIEV: Ukraine on Wednesday banned all Russian airlines from crossing its airspace in the latest escalation between the two neighbours 19 months into the separatist war in the east of the former Soviet state.
The announcement by Kiev’s pro-Western government came only moments after Russia announced plans to halt gas shipments to energy-dependent Ukraine starting Thursday.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a televised cabinet meeting that the latest ban was justified because “Russia might use Ukrainian airspace to stage provocations.”
“This is an issue of our country’s national security a response to the Russian Federation and its aggressive actions.”
Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Moscow of orchestrating and supporting the pro-Russian revolt in reprisal for last year’s ouster of Kiev’s Kremlin-backed president and the new government’s decision to align itself with the West.
Kiev on October 25 barred most Russian airlines from flying into Ukraine a decision that drew immediate reciprocal measures by Moscow.
But President Petro Poroshenko’s government had at the time allowed Russian airlines to cross Ukrainian airspace to other destinations.
Yatsenyuk said the new decision came “in part as result of the escalation of the military and geopolitical situation.”
A recent upsurge in fighting in Ukraine’s industrial heartland has coincided with Russia’s stepped up air campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Some analysts and politicians in Kiev accuse the Kremlin using the world’s focus on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in its main Middle Eastern ally as cover for launching a new phase of the Ukrainian war.
Russia denies all involvement in a conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people the majority of them civilians and plunged Moscow’s relations with the West to a post-Cold War low.
Moscow has banned the import of most Western food products to counteract financial and other sanctions imposed by Brussels and Washington in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea last year.
It has also restricted the sale in Russia of many Ukrainian goods.
Moscow now threatens to halt all Ukrainian food imports should Kiev joined a planned free trade alliance with the European Union (EU) on January 1.