Wealthy Russians exploit travel loopholes in Serbia and Uzbekistan to avoid EU flight bans … – iNews

Wealthy Russians are exploiting travel loopholes to jet to destinations like Cyprus, Italy and America while the country remains isolated on the world stage following the invasion of Ukraine.

Travel has become more difficult for Russians since the war broke out. While the elite are still able to jet off to Dubai and the Maldives, the most popular destinations for Russian travellers are in Europe, which have been cut off by the ban on Russian planes using EU airspace.

Russian tour operators and popular resorts in Europe have seen their revenue decline sharply as Russians find alternative destinations closer to home. But as the Instagram feeds of travel bloggers demonstrate, there are ways around the airspace ban.

Serbia has become a popular “back door” to the West and national carrier Air Serbia has increased flights between Belgrade and Moscow. Prices for the route have risen sharply but tickets are still being rapidly snapped up.

“Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we have seen a substantial increase in traffic to and from Russia via Belgrade,” says Olivier Ponti, vice-president of insights at travel industry analysts ForwardKeys.

“In the 12 weeks since the start of the war, travel from Europe and the US to Russia via Belgrade has increased 474 per cent compared to the three months (or 13 weeks) before. Travel in the opposite direction has increased by 163 per cent.”

The company has found the most popular onward destinations from Belgrade are Cyprus, Italy, and the USA, while the most common destinations heading to Moscow via Belgrade include Germany, France, and Austria. Analysts believe these travellers are typically wealthy as they are booking the most expensive seats.

In addition to increased flights between Belgrade and Moscow, Air Serbia has now begun selling tickets on a new route between the capital and Sochi on Russia’s Black Sea coast. Russia’s Association of Tour Operators has welcomed the move for facilitating onward travel.

“Sochi flights are designed for convenient connections with flights from Belgrade to Berlin, Vienna, Zurich, Dusseldorf, London, Ljubljana, Milan, Paris, Prague, Podgorica, Rome, Tivat, Venice and Zagreb,” said the group in a statement. Air Serbia did not respond to a request for comment.

Serbia’s approach has been controversial. European MEPs have criticised “continuous flights between Belgrade and Moscow”. The country has been Russia’s closest ally in Europe because of a common opposition to Nato, the status of Kosovo – which Russia does not recognise – and close economic ties.

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Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has come under increasing pressure to follow European policy, with critics suggesting its accession to the EU could otherwise be under threat.

Vucic has signed on to UN statements condemning Russia’s aggression but has defended the continuation of flights, and accused Ukraine of responsibility for bomb threats that forced the cancellation of Belgrade-Moscow flights. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on European countries to ban Russian visitors.

While the EU’s airspace ban does not in theory prohibit Russian travellers if they can find an alternative route, in practice they are affected by other sanctions. Several of the Baltic states have suspended visas to Russian nationals, and Russian-issued credit cards are blocked in the EU.

Another back door has emerged to address the latter issue. Tour operator VEDI group is now selling packages to Uzbekistan to allow Russians to open accounts and obtain cards that work abroad. Several Russian agencies are now offering similar deals and receiving high demand.

It is not only tourists that are making use of back doors. The charitable organisation Kovcheg – ‘The Ark’ – established by exiled dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is facilitating the exit of refugees who oppose the war and Vladimir Putin’s regime. The group estimates about 700,000 Russians have fled since the invasion.

Kovcheg has established a support network operating in several central European states including Armenia and Kazakhstan, helping refugees resettle and assisting visa applications, as well as providing temporary accommodation in Istanbul. The group has supported doctors, engineers, and IT workers, spokesperson Anastasiya Burakova told Lithuanian TV channel Delfi.

social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #travel #tours – original source here