Ukraine urges Ryanair to resume flight talks

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Ukraine urges Ryanair to resume flight talks

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Ukraine’s prime minister on Tuesday has appealed to Ryanair to resume talks over flights to the country as a domestic political row escalated over the airline’s decision to cancel its plans.

Volodymyr Groysman said the country had “decided to renew the negotiation process with Ryanair”, a day after the airline accused Kiev’s airport of failing to honour a deal. Ukraine was “not yet a sufficiently mature or reliable business location to invest”, Ryanair said.

The collapse of talks with Europe’s largest budget airline has sparked anger on Ukrainian social media. It comes a month after the implementation of an agreement to allow visa-free travel to the EU promised Ukrainians closer, cheaper and easier access to the west.

Volodymyr Omelyan, Ukraine’s transport minister, on Tuesday accused Pavlo Riabikin, Boryspil airport’s chief executive, of sabotaging negotiations and trying to protect Ukraine International Airlines, which is co-owned by Igor Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s most influential oligarchs.

Mr Riabikin denied wrongdoing and claimed other national airports had also failed to reach agreement with Ryanair, saying the carrier was asking for unfeasible concessions that could incur vast airport losses. Ukraine International Airlines also denied any interference in the talks.

Mr Groysman called for an investigation of “a situation which has drawn broad public and political” resonance but urged officials to finalise months of negotiations with Ryanair.

“As politicians argue over who is to blame, our passengers are suffering,” Mr Groysman added.

The prime minister’s reaction shows the embarrassment in Kiev, where the pro-western leadership has invested heavily in easing travel to Europe as part of its broader aspiration of closer ties with the west.

Senior EU leaders are also due in Kiev this week for a two-day summit when they are likely to deepen calls for Ukraine’s leadership to speed up patchy reforms and combat still widespread political corruption.

Ryanair said on Monday it would cancel 11 planned routes from the UK, Netherlands and other European destinations to Kiev and Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine.

“Regrettably, Kiev airport has . . . chosen to protect high fare airlines (including Ukraine International Airlines) and deprive Ukrainian consumers/visitors access to Europe’s lowest air fares and widest route network,” the company said.

Nearly 100,000 Ukrainians have since the June 11 launch date made short EU visits under the visa-free regime, which Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, has hailed as break from invasive visa applications and “a final goodbye to the Russian Empire”.

Mr Poroshenko has seen his popularity plunge amid three years of war with Russian-backed separatists in Far Eastern regions. Unpopular and patchy reforms under a $17.5bn International Monetary Fund reform programme have yet to sharply raise living standards as the country crawls out of a deep recession.

Mr Kolomoisky, the co-owner of Ukraine International Airlines, is embroiled in a separate stand-off with the government and central bank over related-party loans to PrivatBank, the country’s largest bank that was nationalised last year. He was not directly named by Mr Omelyan and did not comment.

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