Canada, European Union close airspace to Russian aircraft operators

Both Canada and the European Union are closing their airspace to Russian aircraft operators. Both announced the move Sunday.

Move comes days after Canada announced major sanctions on Russian officials

The logo for Russia's flagship airline Aeroflot is seen on an Airbus A320 in Colomiers near Toulouse, France, on Sept. 26, 2017. Canada as well as the 27-country EU are closing their airspace to Russian aircraft operators effective immediately, it was announced Sunday. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters)

Both Canada and the European Union are closing their airspace to Russian aircraft operators.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Canada's move, which is effective immediately, in a tweet Sunday morning, in Ottawa's latest response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine earlier this week.

Also on Sunday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the 27-country bloc will close its airspace, formalizing for the entire group of states what many member nations had already implemented.

Von der Leyen also said the EU would, for the first time, provide direct military aid to a country under attack, as it plans to finance the purchase and delivery of weapons to Ukraine. It also said it would ban some pro-Russian media outlets.

As late as Friday, Alghabra told The Canadian Press this country's airspace remained open to Russian carriers, but the Transport Department was considering options and working with allies.

Russia's flagship carrier Aeroflot operates multiple flights per day through Canadian airspace en route to the U.S. and beyond.

An Aeroflot flight from Miami to Moscow passed through Canadian airspace on Sunday after the ban was announced, 
according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.
A spokesperson for Alghabra said air traffic control manager NAV Canada had mistakenly permitted a banned aircraft into Canadian airspace and steps were being taken to ensure it did not happen again.

Transport Canada said it was launching a review into the conduct of Aeroflot and NAV Canada leading up to the violation.

The decision announced Sunday will add hours to some flights and make others "impossible," said aerospace consultant Ross Aimer.

Russia has responded by banning commercial flights from the U.K., Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

Canada also levied what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described as "severe, co-ordinated sanctions" on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle.

On Saturday, North American and European countries, in a move backed by Canada, said they would cut some Russian banks off from the crucial SWIFT financial communications system.

Ukraine has sought no-fly zone

The decision announced Sunday applies to Canada's own airspace. It's distinct from a Ukrainian request to establish a military no-fly zone over its airspace, aimed at stopping Russian airstrikes. Speaking to Canadian media Friday, Ukrainian MPs appealed for direct action.

"We need assistance to be able to wake up on Monday morning in an independent and free Ukraine," said Lesia Vasylenko. Ukraine has closed its airspace to commercial flights.

A Western-backed no-fly zone is "not going to happen," retired Canadian Forces lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie, a former Liberal MP, told CBC's Power & Politics on Friday.

Leslie said a no-fly zone would need to be enforced by Western militaries and bring American pilots directly into conflict with Russian forces, risking intense escalation and possible nuclear conflict.

"I've never thought that we were closer to nuclear war, world war three, now than any other time in my previous 35 years in the army."

Defence Minister Anita Anand told CBC's The House on Friday that a no-fly zone was "not on the table at the current time."

With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters