The Armenian government on Monday denied claims by authorities in Crimea that a Russian airline has begun direct flights from the Black Sea region annexed by Russia to Armenia, which have not been allowed by Ukraine.
Anatoly Tsurkin, Crimea’s transport minister, told the Interfax news agency that the Grozny Avia airline carried out its inaugural flight to Yerevan on Sunday morning. He said that the Grozny Avia plane will fly back to the Crimean capital Simferopol on Monday.
“Simferopol-Yerevan flights do not exist,” insisted Ruben Grdzelian, the spokesman for the Armenian civil aviation authority. He said that the airline based in the Russian North Caucasus republic of Chechnya is allowed to fly to Armenia only from the Russian cities of Anapa and Kazan.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Grdzelian suggested that the Grozny Avia flight cited by the Crimean official landed in Anapa before flying to Yerevan.
Crimea, which is internationally recognized as a part of Ukraine, had a regular flight service with Armenia until its controversial annexation by Moscow in March, which led Ukrainian and other non-Russian airlines to stop flying to the Black Sea peninsula. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) warned carriers in April that such flights have become potentially unsafe. It went on to certify that the airspace above Crimea continues to belong to Ukraine.
Grozny Avia announced last month that it will launch Simferopol-Yerevan flights on November 17. The Russian carrier went ahead with ticket sales despite apparently failing to secure permission from Armenia’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
The Ukrainian ambassador in Yerevan, Ivan Kukhta, warned on October 29 that the flight service also requires a green light from the authorities in Kiev. Kukhta said he has raised the matter with Armenian government officials and received assurances that the Grozny Avia flights have not been sanctioned by Yerevan.
Relations between Ukraine and Armenia already deteriorated because of Crimea last spring. President Serzh Sarkisian irked the Ukrainian government with a statement welcoming a disputed referendum in Crimea that led to its annexation by Russia. Armenia also controversially voted against a pro-Ukrainian resolution that was overwhelmingly adopted by the UN General Assembly.
The Ukrainian government responded by recalling Kukhta for consultations. The envoy returned to Yerevan in June.