Russia denies reports that a ban on flights to Turkey will be extended through June

Russia’s disease control center for combatting COVID-19 issued a press statement denying reports that it is considering an extension of the ban on flights to Turkey. 

"The operational headquarters does not confirm the information on the extension of the suspension of flights with Turkey until June 30," read the statement on Monday, according to  Russian daily Izvestia.

Flights from Russia to Turkey were suspended from April 15 to June 1 with the exception of twice weekly export flights between Moscow and Istanbul. Russian officials said the ban was over a surge in COVID-19 cases in Turkey, but the decision was seen as retaliation for a meeting between Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodomyr Zelensky on April 10. Russia denies that the flight ban had anything to do with political disagreements.

Russia has been critical of the defence relationship between Turkey and Ukraine, particularly Ankara’s sale of military drones to the Ukrainian military. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Russian tourists would flock to Turkey for their vacation. Data from 2019 showed that 6.9 million Russian tourists visited Turkey, but the pandemic reduced that number to slightly over 2 million last year. The decision to cut abruptly flights to Turkey is estimated to have affected up to half a million Russian travelers who had trips already booked.

Turkish officials have worked to assure Russia that their country remains a safe destination for tourists for the upcoming travel season. On Monday, a delegation from Turkey led by Erdogan’s foreign policy aide Ibrahim Kalin arrived in Moscow to make their case to Russian officials by explaining the measures they are taking to protect travelers. 

The Turkish entourage is also interested in discussing more supplies of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine as well. Turkey approved Sputnik V for use in March and has concluded a joint production deal between a Turkish firm and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF). 

Turkey recently emerged from a three week lockdown following a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases nationwide.