Russia halts flights to Turkey amid surging COVID-19 cases, diplomatic tensions

Russia will restrict flights to and from Turkey between April 15-June 1 due to the soaring number of COVID-19 cases in Turkey, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said on Monday, amid growing tensions between Ankara and Moscow.

The decision to slash the number of flights to Turkey, a popular destination for millions of Russian tourists annually, arrives against a backdrop of tensions over Ukraine.

Golikova said that protecting its citizens was a priority, and asked tour operators to stop their sales, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Turkey in recent weeks has registered its highest number of daily infections, over 50,000, triple the figures from just last month.

“We follow the epidemiologic developments in Turkey… and act accordingly,” Sputnik Turkish cited Golikova as saying.

Earlier on Monday, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov warned Turkey against provoking the “militarist’’ tendencies of Ukraine, Russian news agency Sputnik reported, referring to Turkey’s drone sales to the country.

Turkey is among the most popular destinations for Russian tourists. In 2019, a total of 6.9 million Russians visited in Turkey. This number saw a sharp decline of more than 77 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic, according to Daily Sabah newspaper.

Turkey is seeking to attract more tourists to the country this year to help bolster economic growth and to earn in vital foreign currency revenues. A slump in income from tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a slump in the value of the lira against major currencies last year.