MOSCOW/ZHDANIVKA - Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned Thursday that Russia could block overflights between Europe and Asia in retaliation for Western sanctions.
Medvedev said the Russian government was considering a series of measures in response to Western sanctions that shut down the country’s first low-cost airline.
“First is a ban on using the airspace of our country for transit flights by European and US airlines in the ... Asia-Pacific region,” said Medvedev. “Of course this is a severe measure. Nevertheless, we need to mention it,” he added. Medvedev repeated the threat as he ordered bans on major food products from the European Union and United States in response to their sanctions over Russian policy in Ukraine.
Aeroflot’s low-cost subsidiary Dobrolet which flew to Crimea, annexed by Russia in March, said at the weekend it was forced to ground all of its flights because of EU sanctions hitting its leases for Boeing aircraft. The ban could hurt European airlines such as Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France and Finnair that operate many long-haul routes to Asia.
A Ukranian fighter jet tumbled to earth in a fireball Thursday after it was blasted out of the air while flying low over rebel-held territory in the east of the country.
An AFP crew saw the Sukhoi warplane explode in mid-air and the parachute of at least one pilot opening up in the clear blue sky. Explosions and flashes erupted from the wreckage as it continued to burn on the ground, sending up clouds of acrid smoke.
Two armed rebels ran around the blackened field close to the flaming debris as the sound of shooting rang out nearby. Another plane could be heard flying high overhead and the insurgents shouted at the AFP team to leave the scene.
A local resident told AFP that he had seen at least two parachutes appear after the aircraft was hit.
‘It flew past us and there was an explosion. Two pilots ejected out,’ said Danil, 17. A Ukrainian military spokesman confirmed that rebels had shot down a jet some 40 kilometres (25 miles) to the northeast of the rebel stronghold Donetsk.
‘The pilot managed to steer the craft away from a residential area,’ spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov told AFP.
A search-and-rescue mission was currently underway for the pilot, he said. The location was also some 40 kilometres west of the site where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down at an altitude of some 10,000 metres on July 17 killing all 298 people on board. The Ukrainian military has lost a string of aircraft during almost four months of fierce fighting against pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine that has claimed over 1,300 lives.
Two Ukrainian Sukhoi jets were shot down on July 23, with Kiev alleging the missiles that hit them had come from Russian territory. On Thursday the Ukrainian army announced it was scrapping a ceasefire around the MH17 crash site after international investigators decided to suspend their probe there due to ongoing fighting. Sustained shelling pounded the centre of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk for the first time in the conflict, with at least 11 civilians killed by clashes around the region.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimated earlier this week that using other longer routes could add around $30,000 (22,400 euro) per flight in higher fuel and operating costs. It also noted that Russia’s top airline Aeroflot, which receives the fees gathered from European airlines for the overflight rights, would be sent into a financial tailspin by such a ban. It estimated those fees bring in around $250-$300 million per year for Aeroflot, or a third of the company’s operating profit.
The prime minister of Ukraine’s self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic announced Thursday that he was resigning his position. Russian citizen Alexander Borodai said he was stepping down in favour of a field commander, Alexander Zakharchenko, after finishing his work as a “start-upper”.
He said he would become a deputy prime minister and pledged not to leave the unrecognised republic.
A Ukranian fighter jet was shot down on Thursday as it flew low over rebel-held territory in the east of the country, an AFP journalist witnessed. The aircraft crashed into a field after an explosion and the pilot was seen parachuting out in an area some 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of the insurgent bastion of Donetsk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s domestic approval rating has soared to 87 percent, pollsters said on Thursday, the highest level in six years as Russia is locked in a standoff with the West over Ukraine.
Nearly one in 10 Russians polled by the independent Levada research centre said they approved of Putin’s policies when the study was conducted at the beginning of August. The figure is just one percent lower than the Kremlin strongman’s historic popularity peak in August 2008 when Moscow fought a brief war with Georgia.
In the August poll, 66 percent of Russians said they think that the country is “moving in the right direction”, against 19 percent who said Russia is on the wrong path. Putin’s rating shot up from 65 percent at the start of 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea in March and his popularity remains strong as Moscow continues its showdown with the West over the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
But his positive image at home contrasts sharply with how the Russian leader is viewed around the world.
A poll by Pew Research last month showed that Europeans and Americans view Russia more negatively than they did last year, with the percentage of Americans holding an unfavourable view of Moscow up 29 percent.