Russia will restrict flights to and from Turkey from April 15 to June 1 due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in Turkey, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said on April 12, amid growing political tensions between the two countries.
The decision to drastically cut the number of flights to Turkey, which is heavily reliant on revenue from tourism, was announced two days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Istanbul.
Golikova, speaking on the Russia-24 TV Channel, did not mention politics in the decision to restrict flights to Turkey, a popular destination for millions of Russian tourists.
She said the number of COVID-19 cases in Turkey had been rising.
A senior government official said earlier on April 12 that Turkey's daily coronavirus infection numbers had soared above 50,000, and Erdoğan was likely to order a tightening of restrictions this week ahead of the start of the tourism season.
Asked about Russia's move, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told a news conference that a Russian delegation would visit Turkey's tourist destinations soon to observe coronavirus control measures.
Golikova said some flights, including two per week to Istanbul, would continue.
According to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, the restriction has no political implication.
"The situation is solely epidemiological in nature and is related to a quite sharp outbreak of the incidence in Turkey," Peskov said.
In the latest sign of worsening relations between Russia and Turkey, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Turkey and other "responsible" nations should not feed what he described as "belligerent sentiment" in Ukraine.
"I will tell you straight away that we urge all responsible countries that we communicate with - and Turkey is one of them - that we strongly recommend they analyze the situation and the Kiev regime’s relentless belligerent statements, and we also warn them against encouraging these militaristic aspirations," Lavrov said when asked whether Russia is concerned over the military-technical cooperation between Turkey and Ukraine.
The cooperation in question surfaced after Zelenskiy’s visit to Istanbul on April 10, and the reports of the first launch of Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drone in Donbass.
Erdoğan, alongside Zelenskiy, expressed his readiness to support a peaceful resolution to the conflict in breakaway pro-Moscow eastern regions in Ukraine, where tensions recently flared.
'Nothing to rejoice about'
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on April 13 said that the emergence of Turkish drones in Donbass "isn’t giving Moscow anything to be enthusiastic about."
"Obviously, there can hardly be anything to rejoice about given that Turkish drones, as the story goes, are surfacing somewhere in Donbass," the senior Russian diplomat said.
Turkish exports to various countries are "a serious issue," he noted.
"They buy something from us and ship their products elsewhere. Corresponding arrangements exist, including export controls where all these things are discussed. Through bilateral channels, we are also looking at an entire range of such episodes and will continue doing so," the high-ranking diplomat pledged.
At the same time, Russia and Turkey have "normal and versatile relations" and discuss all the bilateral issues "in a working procedure," he pointed out.