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Turkey may deny ground services to Russian airliners soon

Washington pressuring Turkish firms to withhold services to western-made jets like Airbuses and Boeings due to sanctions over Ukraine
The Aeroflot logo seen in the background of a silhouette of an Airbus A380 plane (Reuters)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Turkey’s largest airport ground service provider Havas has warned Russian airlines that it may stop providing services to Western-made aircraft due to Washington-imposed sanctions over the Ukraine invasion, a Turkish source told Middle East Eye. 

Russian publication RBC reported on Thursday that Havas sent a letter to Russian and Belarusian airlines on Tuesday, signed by the general manager Mete Erna, saying that the service may be denied to US-made Boeing aircraft as well as European Airbus aircraft.

The list includes 170 aircraft belonging to Russian airlines, including Aeroflot, Rossii, S7, Utair Airlines, Red Wings, Nordwind, and Yamal, as well as Belarusian airline Belavia. 

TAV Airports, which operates 90 airports in 29 countries and owns Havas, provides aircraft services at the Istanbul, Ankara, and Antalya airports, among others. There are two other major Turkish ground services that also serve Russian aircraft. 

The source told MEE that Havas hadn't made a final decision to withhold its services to Russian airlines, but is currently evaluating the situation by talking to them.

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The source added that if the United States forces local companies to abide by the sanctions and stop serving the Russian companies, they would likely follow. The Turkish government is yet to issue a decision on the matter, according to the sources in Ankara. 

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The Wall Street Journal reported last week that US officials warned Turkish authorities and the private sector that Turkish citizens were at risk of prison time, fines, and loss of export privileges if they provide services like refueling and spare parts to the US-made planes flying to Turkey from Russia and Belarus.

According to US sanctions, the provision of maintenance services for Russia- or Belarus-bound aircraft assembled with more than 25 percent of US-origin technology is prohibited.

According to the Cirium aviation analytical company, from 1 October to the end of January, airlines from Russia and Belarus had more than 2,100 flights to Turkey on American Boeings, the RBC report said. 

A Russian airliner source told RBC that within two weeks Havas will discuss with Russian carriers how to solve the problem.

“Essentially, Havas is asking Russian companies to come up with a way to solve the problem, since there are four alternative handling companies operating in Turkey, in addition to it,” he says. “If Havas ceases to serve the aircraft of Russian carriers, then they will switch to other servicing companies.”

Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that Turkish ground services companies denying service to the Russian airlines could prove costly and significantly increase fares between the two countries. 

Turkey condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and armed Kyiv with sophisticated weapons even before Ukraine's western allies, including armed drones and other equipment, but refused to join western sanctions against Moscow. However, Turkish officials often reiterate that they will not allow anyone to circumvent those sanctions on Turkish soil. Moscow is also a major trade partner for Ankara, including joint energy projects and direct investments in real estate. 

The US Treasury Department's top sanctions official, Brian Nelson, is currently visiting Turkey. He will warn businesses and banks that they should avoid transactions related to potential dual-use technology transfers, which could ultimately be used by Russia's military, a Treasury spokesperson told Reuters on Friday.

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