Moscow ready to talk with Kiev on air links

Moscow hopes to resume air links after talks with Kiev, which may indicate a shift in Russia’s attitude toward Ukraine, experts said.

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Alexsander Neradko, chief of Russia’s air traffic authority Rosaviatsiya, said on Monday, “We have been ready all the way. Now I can confirm the readiness for full-scale talks with the Ukrainian aviation administration on all issues that concern air links and other related matters,” Neradko said, adding that no contacts have started between the neighboring countries.

Earlier, a group of Ukrainian activists addressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with a request for resuming commercial flights with Russia and lifting the blockade on Crimea. Both petitions were published on the Ukrainian presidential website, according to Russia’s Tass News Agency.

There has been no air transportation service between Russia and Ukraine since 2015 after the Crimea region of Ukraine was incorporated into Russia in March 2014 following a local referendum. Ukraine claims sovereignty over the peninsula.

In September 2015, Ukraine imposed sanctions on more than 20 Russian airlines that ran flights to Crimea, because the country insisted that Crimea was annexed.

In response, Rosaviatsia banned all Ukrainian air carriers from operating flights to Russia.

Russia has had tough relations with its former Soviet satellite countries for years, as Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova seek greater integration with the European Union. All hope for EU membership, said Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat and now Moscow-based foreign policy analyst.

Georgia and Ukraine are also eager to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Moscow has routinely accused the West of undermining Russia’s security by encroaching on its backyard.

Right now, Russia may show its softer side to its neighbors, because the policy toward those three states hasn’t “exactly worked, not yet” and change may be under way, Frolov said.

He said the Kremlin wants NATO cancel its pledge, made at a 2008 summit, that Georgia and Ukraine will be granted membership in the future. Russia also wants both countries to join the Moscow-led Eurasian Union, instead of the EU.

“So, from hard-hard power they are switching to hard-soft power,” said Frolov, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin is in no hurry as the challenge faced by Ukraine’s new President Zelensky is much bigger than that of his Russian counterpart.

Kirk Bennett, a former US diplomat who served in both Russia and Ukraine, agreed with Frolov, saying that Zelensky inherits the same set of unpalatable options that his predecessor Petro Poroshenko faced with the regard to the simmering conflict in Donbas in eastern Ukraine.

Bennett said the comedian-cum-president may have two possible choices: ” (He can) recognize the independence of the Russian-controlled separatist entities and let them go. (Or he can) accept terms for their reintegration into Ukraine that would leave them under Moscow’s effective control and give them a veto over national policy.”

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