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Russia Considers Closing Off Airspace Over Western Sanctions

The EU is expected to unveil a new round of sanctions. In response, Russia is threatening to close off its airspace to Western airlines.
Posted at 12:34 PM, Sep 08, 2014

Russia looks poised to up the ante in its tit-for-tat sanctions war with the West.

After first imposing a yearlong embargo on imported Western food, Russia is threatening to block international flights through its airspace.

The European Union is expected to unveil a new round of sanctions against Russia — this time targeting oil and gas firms Rosneft and Gazprom. (Video via Ukraine Today

In aninterview published Monday, Russia's Prime Minister vowed to retaliate for what he described as "stupid" sanctions. "If Western carriers have to bypass our airspace, this could drive many struggling airlines into bankruptcy. This is not the way to go. We just hope our partners realize this at some point."

Legally, Russia is perfectly free to do this since it never agreed to the UN's Chicago Convention regulating international airspace. Instead, each country has worked out its own bilateral deal with Russia. (Video via Delta

There's no arguing airlines in those countries would suffer under such a ban. Passing over Siberia is the most direct route from Europe to Asia. 

According to RT, European carriers currently save as much as four hours and $30,000 per flight by flying over Russia. 

Forcing planes to reroute would mean higher fuel costs, and Western passengers might end up feeling the pain with pricier plane tickets. Then again, you could also make the argument that any airspace ban would hurt Russia as much as it would hurt its intended targets.

Russia's largest airline could lose out big. An estimated 18 percent of Aeroflot's total revenue comes from fees and royalties it collects from foreign carriers.

A Moscow-based financial analyst told Bloomberg this amounted to $170 million in 2013. 

Also keep in mind, the EU can play this game, too. As a writer at Forbes explains, if Russia goes through with this, the EU "could then withdraw overflight rights from Russian airlines. The more people Russia denies overflight rights to the more people are likely to deny such rights to Russian airlines."

Russian officials have already imposed a yearlong ban on various foods from the EU and the U.S., leading to skyrocketing food prices at home. 

This video includes images from Getty Images and SuperJet International / CC BY SA 2.0.