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Russia eyes new airline for Crimea flights

A Russian minister said on Wednesday (Aug 13) the government was discussing the creation of a new airline to serve the Crimean peninsula annexed from Ukraine that would use domestic aircraft to avoid European sanctions.

MOSCOW: A Russian minister said on Wednesday (Aug 13) the government was discussing the creation of a new airline to serve the Crimean peninsula annexed from Ukraine that would use domestic aircraft to avoid European sanctions.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin's comments came less than two weeks after Russian flag carrier Aeroflot's low-cost unit Dobrolyot was grounded because a European leasing company barred the use of Boeing aircraft due to EU sanctions.

Russia has been trying to revive tourism to the Black Sea region despite global condemnation of a Kremlin-backed military operation that saw Crimea break away from Kiev in March.

Rogozin tweeted that ministers discussed boosting production of new lines of Ilyushin aircraft that could operate in place of the US-built Boeing jets.

"On the agenda is also the issue of establishing an airline to ensure a regular air lift to Crimea using Russian aircraft," Rogozin tweeted on his English-language account.

The European sanctions are part of wide-ranging punitive steps imposed by Brussels and Washington against Russian state companies and individuals who form the core of President Vladimir Putin's inner circle.

The West and Kiev accuse the Kremlin of arming and funding insurgents who have been battling government forces in Ukraine's heavily Russified southeast since April.

But Russia has brushed off the criticism and last week imposed food bans against the United States and EU nations that underscore the depth to which East-West relations have plunged in recent months.

Putin on Wednesday was due to chair a Russian Security Council meeting in Crimea in defiance of Kiev's protests.

The suspension of Dobrolyot flights to Crimea - a rugged mountainous resort destination of many since the Soviet era - left many Russians with only the option of using a ferry link over the Kerch Strait where private cars are reported to be waiting more than two days to cross.

Crimea is currently being serviced by daily flights by S7 airline and Orenair - another Aeroflot unit that operates Boeing aircraft. Orenair picked up the bulk of Dobrolyot's routes to Crimea. It began selling tickets for flights of its main city of Simferopol on Wednesday morning.

Aeroflot's board of directors will decide on August 25 whether to transfer Dobrolyot's two Boeing jets to Orenair to supplement its fleet.

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