Cyprus Today

Russia, Turkey leaders ‘discuss direct flights’ to North Cyprus

- By TOM CLEAVER

TURKISH President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has “constantly talked about” the issue of direct flights between Russia and North Cyprus with his Russian counterpar­t Vladimir Putin, he said on Thursday.

Mr Erdoğan is reported to have said that “if direct flights start from Russia to the TRNC, we will of course be pleased”.

He added that the opening up of direct flights from Russia would boost tourism and allow North Cyprus to make a “serious leap regarding the economy”.

Mr Erdoğan was asked about the issue during a press conference in New York following reports earlier in the week by the Turkish daily newspaper Milliyet claiming that “diplomatic sources” had informed them that “direct flights” between North Cyprus and Russia will start on November 15, after the EU’s sanctions on Russia led to Russian tourists preferring to holiday in North Cyprus over South Cyprus this summer.

The speculatio­n around direct flights between the TRNC and Russia spooked the Greek Cypriot Administra­tion, with leader Nicos Anastasiad­es initially arranging a meeting with

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to “raise the issue”.

However, Mr Anastasiad­es’s efforts to find answers were thwarted by the EU, with the meeting being swiftly cancelled.

A Greek Cypriot Administra­tion spokesman explained that “the guidelines from Brussels to avoid bilateral meetings with Russia were followed”.

After the report was published in Milliyet, President Ersin Tatar made a statement to the newspaper, saying that “we would welcome [direct flights from Russia] if such a developmen­t happens”, adding that it would be a “very important step for the TRNC” and that “this is how recognitio­n begins”.

“According to our lawyers, there is no reason why there should be no direct flights, but the Greek Cypriots keep objecting in order to hinder our progress and bring us to our knees,” he said.

The Russian Embassy in South Nicosia denied the direct flight claims, releasing a statement that said: “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.”

This is not the first time Russia has been forced to deny reported upgrades of its relationsh­ip with the TRNC.

Back in March, Russia denied claims in the Greek media that it was planning to open an embassy in North Cyprus.

The statement at the time said reports “based on rumours” by a “number of journalist­s” about “Russia’s alleged recognitio­n” of the TRNC were “untrue”.

The statement clarified that “the stance of the Russian Federation on the settlement of the Cyprus problem on the basis of the UNSC [United Nations Security Council] resolution­s remains unchanged”, adding that Russia “does not intend to recognise any authoritie­s other than the ones of the Republic of Cyprus”.

Despite the Russian government’s protestati­ons, Turkish Cypriot politician­s seem to be becoming all the more brazen about potential closer ties to the country.

Public Works and Transport Minister Erhan Arıklı said on Thursday that Mr Erdoğan could fly to the new Ercan airport on November 15, when it is due to open, and that “maybe Russian planes will also land there”.

Dr Arıklı went on to say that the “previously good relationsh­ip between South Cyprus and Russia had been strained” and that “Russian planes landing in the TRNC would contain a politicall­y important message”.

In addition, Dr Arıklı said that “aside from politics, there are no obstacles in the way of the realisatio­n of flights [from Russia] to Ercan airport” and that “Russian flights will have a significan­tly positive effect on the TRNC economy”.

He added that his department has been “in talks with two airline companies from Russia” and noted that tourism in the TRNC will be bolstered next year with “direct flights from Moscow”.

Dr Arıklı also announced this week in various media interviews plans to launch a new “national” airline, which will be known as Mavi Girne Havayollar­ı — or “Blue Girne Airlines” in English.

He said that his ministry “is trying to get everything finished by November 15”, the 39th anniversar­y of the establishm­ent of the TRNC, and disclosed that the new airline will “start with five planes” while aiming to “grow even more after that”.

Dr Arıklı also noted the potential for direct flights between Ercan and the Turkish city of Trabzon, on the Black Sea coast.

“We have flights to destinatio­ns such as Adana, İstanbul and Ankara but there are a large number of people from the Black Sea region living in our country who lose a lot of time and money when they want to go to [Trabzon],” he said.

On this note, he said that “we have good news for them”, confirming that Mavi Girne Havayollar­ı will “hopefully” make one of its first flights to Trabzon.

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