No quick lifting of air travel restrictions: Russian envoy

No quick lifting of air travel restrictions: Russian envoy

Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
No quick lifting of air travel restrictions: Russian envoy

The good news about the return of Russian tourists to the Turkish resorts will have to wait a little longer due to the continued pandemic threat, Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey has said, while informing that Moscow is considering lifting the air travel restriction but it won’t be quick.

“Now the COVID-19 statistics have a trend of going down in Turkey – steadily but slowly. So our competent authorities start considering the lifting of restrictions. This is what the Turkish delegation went for to Moscow last week. Dates? Not yet, not so quick,” Ambassador Aleksei V. Erkhov told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview over the weekend.

Russia has restricted air travel to Turkey between April 15 and June 1 due to a surge in the number of new coronavirus cases in Turkey. There are reports that Russian authorities are planning to extend the flight ban towards Turkey at the expense of depriving Turkish resorts of millions of Russian tourists this season.

Tourism is Turkey’s one of the significant hard cash resources. In a world before the pandemic, Turkey was earning about $40 billion from tourism, but this figure dropped to about $14 billion last year.

Underlining that the situation concerning the pandemic is still very uneasy and unpredictable, Erkhov stressed, “We all remember the events of the last year when we were also trying to guess when the tourist season could and would open. We were waiting and waiting – first June, then July, but for the air traffic from Russia, the season opened fully only on Aug. 10.”

Russians contributed to Turkish tourism in 2020

Despite these problems in 2020, more than 1.5 million Russian tourists came to Turkish resorts and were at the first place among foreign guests, the ambassador recalled, adding, “So we made our contribution – and not a small one – to the Turkish hotels and tourists’ industry to survive.”

“This year, the situation turned even worse – just recall the terrifying digits of April and early May – 60,000 newly positively tested each day!” he underlined while recalling the three-week strict lockdown Turkey had to impose to curb the spread of the virus.

“The pandemic is still there, there are people dying every day and thousands of tests are found to be positive. So, the issue is under everyday control of our countries’ agencies which are under obligation to act responsibly, properly ensuring the public health in both countries as well as the security of tourists coming to the South,” Erkhov said.

Citing Turkish Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy who said that “Russia and Turkey will hold a meeting in the coming weeks to reach a final agreement on the date of the Russian delegation’s visit to Turkey that is expected to focus on assessing prospects for resuming the air travel, currently suspended amid the pandemic,” the ambassador said: “I think these words clearly and correctly describe what we are supposed to do in the nearest future. So, we have most probably to wait just a little bit more to hear the good news.”

Tension over the Crimean Tatars, Circassian exiles

On comments that the Russian restrictions may be a political response to Turkey’s close cooperation with Ukraine, the envoy said: “Ask this question to those who say so. As for me, I never did and never believed it to be true.”

Another current issue between Turkey and Russia is the latter’s reaction to a Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement regarding the anniversaries of the Crimean Tatars and Circassian exiles.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova had criticized Ankara for “trying to use the biased interpretation of historical events for destructive purposes and in an attempt to satisfy its own political ambitions.”

“If this rhetoric continues, we will also have to pay attention to similar issues in Turkey. We wouldn’t like to do this, so I hope the Turkish Foreign Ministry will hear us today,” she said.

On a question about what Zakharova meant, Erkhov drew attention to the fact both Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Zakharova stressed in their recent statements about the primordial importance which Russia attaches to the relations of mutually advantageous cooperation existing between the two countries.

“We really care about these relations and would like very much to go on working together for their further development, serving the objectives of a better future for our peoples,” he said.

‘When Russia, Turkey agree’

“When Russia and Turkey agree – we achieve success; we deliver peace, security and well-being. Examples are evident and numerous – Syria, Libya, Caucasus etc. And, by the way, the economic cooperation too, as well as tourism -- people get what they need,” Erkhov recalled.

Recalling the long historical relations of Turks and Russians, the ambassador underlined, “As for history… Naturally, it is always present in our relations – more than three centuries of wars and conflicts just cannot go without a trace.”

There are many historical memories that stay in peoples’ minds, and maybe not the best ones, as well as many myths, legends and stereotypes that are still lingering on in what can be said “public mood,” he stated, asking, “What to do with them? Of course, one can tenderly cherish the wounds of the past and even try to adjust them to someone’s today’s political or personal goals. Some behave exactly like that, and sometimes they really end up in finding a scapegoat to blame for all their historic problems and troubles.”

‘History kind of turned back politics’

Related to this, he also cited a proverb that goes “history is a kind of turned back politics,” which according to Erkhov means, “that if someone somehow tends to accuse the others of their past sins and evils – real or imagined – it may turn out that he will have to listen to something about himself in return.”

“It’s a two-way street, you know. But such a street, accusations and even indemnification demands, which I am deeply convinced, leads to nowhere. This is why I join my voice to those who say, and they are quite many here, in Turkey, who believe that history must belong to historians, to scientists, and we all, drawing necessary lessons from history, must look ahead – to the better future ensured by joint efforts of peoples,” he added.

Serkan Demirtaş,