Israel underwrites airlines flying to Russia despite Ukraine invasion

Israel underwrites airlines flying to Russia despite Ukraine invasion
Israel will reportedly put in place financial guarantees for Israeli airlines that continue to fly into Russia, in breach of international sanctions.
2 min read
Most European countries have suspended all flights into Russia [Getty]

Israel was poised Tuesday to extend financial guarantees for its airlines to fly into Russia, raising criticism in Kyiv as most Western airlines boycott Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

A source in Israel's finance ministry who spoke anonymously to freely discuss pending decisions told AFP the office would seek to extend underwriting put in place last week for Israeli airlines flying into Russia that are not eligible for their regular insurance because of current sanctions. 

The $2 billion guarantee had been set to expire on 9 March.

The European Union, Canada and the United States have suspended flights to Russia and closed their airspace to Russian aircraft as part of sanctions.

Air links are still open from other countries to and from Russia, including Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has not joined the sanctions as he attempts to maintain relations with Russia. It cooperates over Israeli airstrikes in Syria and Bennett - like his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu - has strong ties with Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Israel's western allies have all launched sanctions on Russia over the invasion.

Bennett flew to Moscow on Saturday, breaking the observation of the Sabbath in an effort to mediate between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky. 

A misunderstanding over Israel's continued flights into Russia caused a diplomatic flap.

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On Tuesday Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba apologised and corrected himself after tweeting that Israel's national carrier El Al still accepts Russia's Mir payment system.

"While the world sanctions Russia for its barbaric atrocities in Ukraine, some prefer to make money soaked in Ukrainian blood. Here is @EL_AL_ISRAEL accepting payments in Russian banking system ‘Mir’ designed to evade sanctions," Kuleba wrote a day earlier, posting an undated screen shot of El Al's checkout page.

A spokesperson for El Al told AFP that the airline stopped accepting Mir payments four days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

"EL AL has blocked the use of the Mir credit card as of 28 February, 2022," the airline said in a statement, adding that it had delivered humanitarian supplies destined for Ukraine and evacuated those fleeing war.

Kuleba acknowledged the use of Mir was blocked. "I am grateful to El Al for its important humanitarian operations and convey my apologies," he wrote.