Moscow and Nicosia are growing further apart on travel between the two countries, prompting Russians living on both sides of the divided island to look for new routes through Turkey after rumors of direct flights in the north subsided due to the Cyprus Problem.
Local media picked up on a flight cancelation this week, after a biweekly Turkish Airlines flight from Trabzon to Ercan was to be launched on Monday but was rescheduled due to bad weather.
Flight TK4305 between the Black Sea coastal town the and Ercan Airport in the north, which is not recognized by countries except Turkey, is being launched after alleged attempts failed to establish direct flights with Moscow.
Turkish Cypriot media reports have been suggesting that Moscow was open to establishing direct flights with the north, but Russian officials failed to confirm any such plans.
Earlier this year Greek Cypriot union officials got wind of a trend where Russian tourists were traveling to the south through Turkey but they were not sure whether this would be short-lived
“Russia’s position on the Cyprus settlement has not changed. Moscow is not conducting negotiations on the opening of direct flights between Russia and northern Cyprus,” an embassy spokesman told RIA Novosti back in September.
Media speculation that Turkish Cypriots could be closer to getting direct flights from Russia was prompted after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in September called on the international community to stop imposing sanctions on northern Cyprus.
Direct flights to the north have been politically unworkable due to the division of the island, which remains ethnically divided for over half a century.
But Russians living in the recognized southern part of Cyprus have also been looking for new routes through Turkey.
In April, Greek Cypriot union officials got wind of a trend where Russian tourists were traveling to the south through Turkey but they were not sure whether this would be a short-lived trend.
According to PEO union official Panicos Ierarchis, the trend among Russian tourists was being monitored, while hotel union boss Philokypros Rousounides estimated that travelers through Turkey were a small number while some also flew through other states such as Serbia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan.
According to Russian news media, foreign ministry sources have linked air routes and efforts to offer consular services in the north to support some 10,000 Russians who live in the north.
Earlier this year Murat Magometovich Zyazikov was appointed Russian ambassador to Nicosia, with Greek Cypriot media taking note of the diplomat’s Muslim faith in contrast with his predecessor Stanislav Osadchiy, who is Christian Orthodox and was harshly criticized over Moscow’s positions.
But the flight ban on Russian flights remains in place as EU-wide policy.
Nothing on the agenda
Russian official Yury Pilipson, who remarked on the issue on Saturday, confirmed that the resumption of direct flights with the Republic of Cyprus was not on the agenda.
Pilipson, who serves on Russian Foreign Ministry’s Fourth European Department, pointed to “illegitimate sanctions against Russian air carriers, which closed the European sky for our planes.”
“Nicosia fully complies with these restrictions, although the Cypriot side itself has repeatedly announced significant losses suffered by the national economy due to the collapse of the tourist flow from Russia,” Pilipson said, adding “I don’t think any further comments are necessary.”
According to official data in the Republic of Cyprus, tourist arrivals exceeded 3 million between January and November 2022, surpassing the entire previous year as arrivals steadily pick up after the pandemic hit tourism in 2020.
Despite losing its huge Russian market due to western sanctions against Moscow, in connection with the war in Ukraine, the Greek Cypriot tourism industry has been trying to attract new visitors from EU countries, including Poland and Hungary.
But in addition to flight bans, Nicosia has also imposed stricter rules for Russians, including processing delays and a litmus test where travelers would need to prove they do not support their president Vladimir Putin, who ordered troops into Ukraine in late February.
Nicosia has condemned Moscow and joined EU sanctions against Russia, initially closing ports and later airspace for aircraft from the Russian Federation, prompting the Kremlin to classify Cyprus in the category of unfriendly countries.