Russia warns Cyprus it will lose tourists over sanctions

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Cyprus has “shot itself in the foot” by joining the EU’s ban on Russian aircraft, said Russia ambassador Stanislav Osadchiy, amid concerns over another lost tourism season.

In an interview with Sigma TV, Osadchiy said Nicosia, siding with the rest of the bloc in banning Russian aircraft, would see Russian tourists heading for destinations in neighbouring Turkey instead.

Osadchiy was clear when referring to the consequences Russia feels that Cyprus and the rest of the EU will suffer due to sanctions imposed following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Where will Cyprus get its Russian tourists from?

“They won’t come; where will they go? To Turkey, is that what you want?

“For them to spend money over there? Summer is coming; you’ve closed your airspace. You have shot yourselves in the foot,” said Osadchiy.

Cyprus has followed the decision taken by EU’s foreign ministers during an informal videoconference on Sunday who agreed to step up sanctions on Russia, including exclusion from global banking platforms and a ban on Russian aircraft.

In retaliation to the EU ban on Russian flights, Russia closed its airspace to airlines from 36 countries, including Cyprus and the 26 other members of the European Union.

Three flights from Moscow to Larnaca, one departure from Larnaca to Moscow, and two Russia-linked flights from the Paphos airport were cancelled.

Osadchiy said that Cyprus will suffer from a series of consequences: “I think the Europeans are shooting themselves in the foot: where will they procure their natural gas, oil, wheat?”

Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said Cyprus had retained the right to rethink its ban on Russian aircraft if Turkey did not do the same.

Ministry spokesperson Demetris Demetriou told state radio CyBC: “If we see that national interests are being harmed, or if Turkey’s instrumentalisation of this decision is harming Cyprus, specific decisions will be taken – regardless of legal or other commitments”.

The flight bans shocked the tourism industry, striving to get its bearings following two years of the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions. It was hoping to revive the Russian market.

In 2019, before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of Russian tourists totalled 782,000 – out of a total of 3.9 million.

Moreover, some 80,000 Ukrainian nationals visited the island last year alone.

On Monday, Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos told the Cyprus News Agency that Nicosia hoped it could minimise the financial impact on Cyprus.

Karousos said Cyprus estimated air traffic to and from Russia in the region of 1.3 million passengers this year, amounting to around 15% of the island’s total volume.

Russia has been traditionally Cyprus’ second largest tourist market after the UK, with around a 19% share.

According to airports operator Hermes, Cyprus expected 20 flights per week in March between Russia, corresponding to roughly 6% to 6.5% of total air traffic, rising to 12% of total flights in April.

There is also a large Russian expat community on the island that relies on flights in and out of Russia.