By Ruzanna Stepanian
Russia has given a last-minute reprieve to Armenian airlines that faced possible sanctions for their failure to repay their debts for using the Russian airspace and airport services, officials in Yerevan said on Friday.
The Russian authorities announced last month that they will close the airspace to airlines from Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine which they say have accumulated $22.8 million in unpaid fees over the past several years. The punitive measure was due to come into force on Friday.
According to the spokesman for Armenia’s Civil Aviation Department, Serzh Manukian, the Russian Ministry of Transport informed the government in Yerevan on Thursday that the Armenian-based carriers can continue to fly to Russia and use its airspace for other flights for the time being. He said Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin will discuss the issue with Armenian officials in Yerevan during a meeting of an intergovernmental commission on bilateral economic cooperation scheduled for October 13-15.
Manukian told RFE/RL that the postponement of the ban followed a September 28 letter to Moscow in which the Armenian side promised to deal with the issue. Manukian put the Armenian share of the debts at almost $2.7 million, saying that they were incurred by the now bankrupt carriers, notably the state-run Armenian Airlines.
The Russian aviation authorities say they are also owed $5 million by the operating Armenian companies. Incidentally, the biggest of them, Armavia, is owned by Russia’s Sibir airline.
“As far as I know, our operating companies have no debts,” Manukian said.