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April 20, 2018updated 24 Apr 2018 8:43am

Visa delays may stop Aeroflot’s US-Russia direct flights as diplomatic spat continues

By Shoshana Kedem

Direct flights to the US by Russia’s flagship carrier Aeroflot could be halted by visa delays for airline staff, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

A foreign ministry spokesman quoted by Russian news agency TASS described the situation as “dismal”:

“The official period of waiting for an interview [with consular officers], which Washington increased to 85 days last August, has been dragged out to 250 days, or eight months recently. In other words, applying for a visa becomes senseless now.

“We cannot even rule out now that our countries may be left without flight connection. Aeroflot, which is the only carrier operating regular flights between Russia and the US, may be forced to stop them, as the crews are facing growing difficulties with getting the American visa.”

Aeroflot appealed to the Russian Foreign and Transport Ministries for assistance after crews were not being issued visas, the airline told Reuters.

On Thursday, the US Consulate in Moscow told Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta that delays in issuing urgent pilot visas were caused by staff shortages.

A Kremlin spokesperson accused the US of deliberately holding up visas on Friday.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters that it was “obvious there are no objective reasons for the Americans to have difficulties with visa activity here.”

He added: “Of course we are concerned and would not like this development of events.”

The poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripali and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK, on 7 March has led to a flurry of retaliatory measures by the US and 22 other countries. Russia was blamed for the attack but has repeatedly denied any involvement.

In the most widespread action taken by any country, US President Donald Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from America, including 48 intelligence agents, and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.

In response, Moscow expelled 60 US diplomats as relations between the two superpowers sink to their lowest level since the Cold War.

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