(Reuters) – European nations and Canada moved on Sunday to shut their airspace to Russian aircraft, an unprecedented step aimed at pressuring President Vladimir Putin to end his invasion of Ukraine, the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two.
The ban on Russian jets comes as the airline industry continues to grapple with the effects of the global pandemic that is still straining demand for travel.
Germany and France joined Britain, the Nordics and Baltic states in announcing bans on Russian use of their airspace, a major escalation in a tactic by mostly NATO allies to wage economic war against Putin in retaliation for the invasion.
The West, led by the United States, also unveiled severe financial sanctions against Russia, which has called its assault on Ukraine a “special operation” to dismantle Kyiv “junta”, capture dangerous nationalists and destroy Ukraine’s military.
Russia is now widely expected to further retaliate against the air blockades and other sanctions. It has already responded to the earliest European airspace bans with its own edicts barring airlines from Britain, Bulgaria and Poland.
Without access to Russia’s airways, experts say carriers face diverting flights south while also avoiding areas of tension in the Middle East – adding significant time and cost.
“France is shutting its airspace to all Russian aircraft and airlines from this evening on,” French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said in a tweet, an announcement echoed across continental Europe.
Earlier, Germany’s transport ministry said it would close airspace to Russian planes and airlines for three months from Sunday, with the exception of humanitarian aid flights.
Canada also said on Sunday it had shut its airspace to Russian aircraft effective immediately..
Air Canada said it “does not operate to destinations in either the Ukraine or Russia, and at all times, we comply with all airspace restrictions per Transport Canada and the FAA (U.S. Federation Avian Administration).”
Nordic countries Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland also made similar announcements, following on from closures already declared by Britain, Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Romania. Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are also closing their airspace to Russian airliners.
“It is now absolutely necessary to proceed with further touch measures to isolate Russia,” Swedish EU Minister Hans Dahlgren told public service radio SR.
Finnish Minister of Transport and Communications Timo Harakka said in a tweet late on Saturday that Finland, which shares a long land border with Russia, was preparing a similar closure.
(Writing by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)