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E.U. to Ban Russian Flights in Effort to Further Isolate Putin

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Bloomberg — The European Union will close its airspace to Russia, attempting to further isolate President Vladimir Putin after he ordered his troops to invade neighboring Ukraine.

The collective action announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels on Sunday is part of an array of measures, from sanctions to flight bans to sending aid to Ukraine, being unfurled by Western nations to punish Putin and persuade him to back down.

The EU’s biggest members, including France and Germany, barred Russian planes earlier, and airlines on both sides of the divide were already feeling the effects of reciprocal measures that, if they stand, will set operating conditions back decades, harkening Cold War-era prohibitions on Western flights across Siberia.

Aeroflot’s direct access to points west has been walled off, forcing the national flag carrier to veer far to the north or south. Moscow responded by blocking access to Russian airspace — a key pathway for long-haul journeys with Asia — for airlines from the U.K. and a number of European countries in retaliation.

This, along with EU sanctions on aircraft parts, forced some to suspend flights to Russia and through it to destinations like Shanghai, Seoul and Hong Kong.

Air France and Finnair Oyj were among the carriers suspending flights to Asia. The French carrier said it was studying alternatives to restore service while avoiding Russian airspace. Finnair cited the extra time and fuel cost.

“For many of our North-East Asia flights, rerouting would mean considerably longer flight time, and operations would not be economically feasible,” the Scandinavian carrier said.

Economic repercussions for carriers quickly stacked up.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. on Friday suspended a cargo-only route from London Heathrow to Shanghai, in one example of how the actions could filter out beyond airlines to have a broader impact on business activity.

The Dutch arm of Air France-KLM, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Hungarian discounter Wizz Air Holdings Plc each said they would halt flights to or from Russia for seven days.

Four Wizz aircraft remain stranded in Ukraine, and with its home airspace closed, Ukraine International Airlines extended a flight suspension through March 23.

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