Serbia ignores EU criticism with ongoing Russian flights
Russian citizens have been avoiding travel bans imposed since the invasion of Ukraine by using Serbia to fly to Cyprus, Italy, the US and other holiday destinations.
While Dubai and the Maldives allow wealthy Russians to visit, the most popular destinations are in Europe. The European Union has banned Russian planes from its airspace.
Russian travel agents and Europe resorts popular with Russians have seen revenues decline sharply as Russians find alternative destinations, often closer to home. But there are loopholes open to wealthy Russians.
Serbia’s national carrier Air Serbia has increased its Moscow flights, prices have risen sharply but demand remains high.
Olivier Ponti of travel industry analysts ForwardKeys said: “In the 12 weeks since the start of the war, travel from Europe and the US to Russia via Belgrade has increased 474 per cent compared to the three months before. Travel in the opposite direction has increased by 163 per cent.”
The firm said the most common onward destinations are Cyprus, Italy and the USA. The most popular destinations to Moscow through Belgrade include Germany, France and Austria. Travellers normally book the most expensive seats, ForwardKeys said.
Air Serbia is now flying to Sochi on Russia’s Black Sea coast.
Russia’s Association of Tour Operators said: “Sochi flights are designed for convenient connections with flights from Belgrade to Berlin, Vienna, Zurich, Dusseldorf, London, Ljubljana, Milan, Paris, Prague, Podgorica, Rome, Tivat, Venice and Zagreb.”
Serbia has deep ties with Russia based on Moscow’s refusal to recognise Kosovo, economic connections and shared antipathy to Nato.
Serbia’s ongoing flights have been criticised in the European Parliament as Belgrade applies to join the EU.
Concerns were expressed by MEPs over allegations of interception of Russian opposition figures in Belgrade by the Serbian authorities and the alleged transfer of material to the Russian security services.
MEPs called on Serbia to provide convincing results in anti-corruption investigations.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has signed United Nations statements condemning Russia’s invasion but accused Ukraine of making bomb threats that forced the cancellation of flights between Serbia and Russia.
The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee expressed “strongly regret” that Serbia has not yet complied with EU sanctions after the Russian invasion.
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