Russia has announced the closure of its airspace for civilian flights on the western border with Ukraine and Belarus, while Ukraine closed its airspace to civilian flights and Europe’s aviation regulator also warned against the hazards of flying in areas bordering Russia and Belarus.
The moves on Thursday came after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a special military operation in the Donbas region.
“The use of airspace on Russia’s western border with Ukraine and Belarus has been temporarily suspended due to the high threat to the safety of flights of civilian aircraft after the use of weapons and military equipment,” a Notice to Airmen or Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) statement said.
In another statement on Thursday, the Russian defence ministry said it was using “high-precision weapons” to disable air defence systems, military airports, and the air force in Ukraine.
Ukraine State Air Traffic Services Enterprise said on its website that the country’s airspace was closed to civilian flights starting from 00:45 GMT on Thursday, with air traffic services suspended.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said airspace in Russia and Belarus within 100 nautical miles of their borders with Ukraine could also pose safety risks.
“In particular, there is a risk of both intentional targeting and misidentification of civil aircraft,” the agency said in a conflict zone bulletin.
“The presence and possible use of a wide range of ground and airborne warfare systems poses a high risk for civil flights operating at all altitudes and flight levels.”
The aviation industry has taken heightened notice of the risks conflicts pose to civil aviation since Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
EASA said Russia’s defence ministry had sent Ukraine an urgent message warning of a high risk to flight safety, due to the use of weapons and military equipment from 00:45 GMT, and asked Ukraine’s air traffic control to stop flights.
On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin authorised “a special military operation” against Ukraine to eliminate what he called a serious threat, saying he aimed to demilitarise Russia’s southern neighbour.
In an early morning address on state television, Putin said he had been left with no choice but to launch the operation, the scope of which was not immediately clear but appeared to go well beyond helping Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“I have decided to conduct a special military operation,” said Putin, seated at a desk in the Kremlin next to a battery of telephones, with the Russian flag behind him.
“Its goal is to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide … for the last eight years. And for this, we will strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine.
“And to bring to court those who committed numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.”
Ukraine dismisses as invented Russian accusations of genocide against people living in parts of its east seized by Russian-backed separatists in 2014.
Kyiv has said Putin was looking for an artificial pretext to attack it.