The Armenian government said on Friday that it has not allowed a Russian regional airline to launch controversial flights from Crimea to Armenia that could prompt criticism from Ukraine and even the European Union.
Nevertheless, the Grozny Air carrier based in the Russian autonomous republic of Chechnya seemed to be pressing ahead with the launch of a regular service between Yerevan and Simferopol, the Crimean capital. One of its senior executives, Timur Shimayev, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the inaugural flight is scheduled for November 17.
Tickets for the flight can already be purchased from Grozny Air’s website and travel agencies in Yerevan. The company has assigned a number to the flight which would be carried out by a Russian-made Yakovlev-42 aircraft.
A senior Crimean official cited by the Interfax news agency also announced the impending launch of the flights on Thursday.
The Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department insisted, however, that it has turned down Grozny Air’s formal request to permit the flight service. The department spokesman, Ruben Grdzelian, said the Russian airline submitted “flawed documents” to Yerevan. He said it can again apply for flight permission soon.
Ukrainian and other non-Russian airlines stopped flying to Crimea shortly after the Black Sea region was annexed by Russia last spring. In early April, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) warned carriers that such flights have become potentially unsafe, meaning that they can no longer be covered by insurance. The United Nations body also said in July that the airspace above Crimea belongs to Ukraine, rather than Russia, which currently controls local air traffic.
The European Aviation Safety Agency Airlines has similarly declared that airlines should avoid Crimean airspace because of potentially confusing air-traffic management.
Shahen Petrosian, a former head of the Armenian civil aviation authority, claimed on Friday that Yerevan will risk sanctions by the ICAO and the European Union if it gives the green light to Yerevan-Simferopol flights. “We could find ourselves on a blacklist,” he said.
Ruben Mehrabian, a pro-Western political analyst, warned of fresh damage to Armenia’s relations with Ukraine. “Ukraine is a very important country for Armenia,” he said. “Armenia would also hurt its ties with the West and gain nothing in return.”
President Serzh Sarkisian already irked the Ukrainian government in March when he welcomed a disputed referendum in Crimea that led to its annexation by Russia. Armenia went on to vote against a pro-Ukrainian resolution on Crimea that was overwhelmingly adopted by the UN General Assembly. The interim government in Kiev responded by recalling Ukraine’s ambassador to Armenia.
The envoy, Ivan Kukhta, returned to Yerevan in June. He said Ukraine’s newly elected President Petro Poroshenko is ready to mend ties with Armenia.