I'm curious if there is some historical precedent for this or if this a rather new level of friction that didn't even exist during the Cold War:

Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia and Romania said on Saturday they were banning some flights from Russia.

Russia earlier said it would close its airspace to flights from Bulgaria, Poland and the Czech Republic after they issued a ban on Russian jets.

Meanwhile, Russian-owned planes can no longer enter UK airspace.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas urged other European Union countries to issue similar restrictions on Twitter, adding: "There is no place for planes of the aggressor state in democratic skies." [...]

The restriction on Russian flights over large swathes of eastern Europe will require Russian airlines to take circuitous routes.

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Yeah, I know most of those countries (highlighted on that map) were actually in the Soviet block during the Cold War, but did Western countries ever impose such restrictions on Soviet aircraft during the heightened moments of the Cold War, e.g. during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia?

Premise update: A day after I wrote the above, the whole of EU closed its airspace to Russian carriers.


3 Answers 3


Why yes.

Somewhat famously, Soviet airspace was closed off to a majority of capitalist nations during almost the entire Cold War period. Instead, flights from Europe to the Far East (read: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan) regularly had scheduled fuel stops in Anchorage, Alaska. The Soviets did not take incursions into their airspace lightly, as seen by the fate of Korean Air Lines flight 007 which was shot down in 1983 en route from New York via Anchorage to Seoul after it incurred Russian airspace following a navigational error.

In the second half of the Cold War, the Soviet Union reached agreements with some western airlines, allowing them to connect Japan to Europe with a stopover in Moscow. (JAL and Aeroflot had pioneered a cooperation in the late 1960's although this relied on Soviet-built aircraft and a Soviet flight crew.) Not all airlines offered Europe–Moscow–Japan connections though; some continuing to fly via Alaska.

Finally, it bears mentioning that Finnair claims to be the first European airline to connect western Europe and Japan directly in 1983 (followed by being the first airline to connect Europe to Beijing in 1988). The Japan flights required extra fuel tanks and took a polar route, again avoiding Soviet airspace. I don't know if the same was done for the Beijing flights, whether they avoided the USSR by going South or whether at that time Finland had secured 1st freedom rights.


anything comparable to the current ban on Russian civilian aircraft in various European countries ever imposed during the Cold War?

Straight off the top of my head was The Berlin Blockade (24 June 1948 – 12 May 1949) which gave rise to the Berlin Airlift, using the West Berlin air corridors, also known as the Berlin corridors and control zone, which were three regulated airways for civil and military air traffic of the Western Allies between West Berlin and West Germany passing over East Germany's territory.

From 1945-1991, outside of that airspace was Soviet territory and anything that flew outside of that would be treated as a threat and be shot down. The Allies also imposed their own counter-blockade, restricting trade with East Germany and East Berlin.

The only real incident that happened due to this is when Soviet authorities claimed that a DC-4 airliner had strayed off the international air corridor on Tuesday 29 April 1952.

Two Russian MiG-15s opened fire, causing substantial damage to the DC-4 and wounding three passengers. The aircraft was hit by 89 shots. Engines no. 3 and 4 were shut down and the pilot carried out a safe emergency landing at Berlin-Tempelhof.

During the Berlin Airlift itself, aircraft routinely buzzed and harassed each others air space.

I know it is not a no-fly zone per se but it is a restricted airspace with threat of lethal force in Europe during the Cold War...

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There was of course Operation Deny Flight, in 1993 as the enforcement of a United Nations no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina, but that was obviously post-Cold War.

  • 1
    The question has not much to do with what is known as no-fly zone today. Such no-fly zones are esteblished for military plains and not civilian ones.
    – convert
    Feb 27, 2022 at 21:31

So, thanks to Stuart F for the tip/comment, it appears that Aeroflot was banned from the US twice during the Reagan administration:

  • in Dec 1981 due to the perceived Soviet support for repression in Poland,

  • in 1983 due the downing of KAL 007.

Strangely enough, it's easier to find statements/references about the first event. State Department; Reagan Library.

But Wikipedia mentions the latter was the lengthier ban, lasting until 1990!

A co-biography of Reagan and Thatcher mentions both instances and suggest that in 1983 more countries might actually banned Aeroflot in response, besides the US, but doesn't specify which (or for how long).

(The Polish airline LOT was apparently also banned by Reagan in 1981.) According this latter account, the 1983 US ban against Aeroflot was more extensive in the that their US offices were also closed and they were forbidden from selling tickets, even though third parties in the US, like for connection flights. Likewise, baggage transfers between US companies and Aeroflot were banned. There's a 1983 WaPo article cited for the latter. It also mentions that Canada took the much more limited measure of suspending Aeroflot landing rights for 60 days, in 1983.

Interestingly enough, the Washington Aeroflot office was also bombed in 1983... and "It was the fourth bombing in six years".

Also, there were no US flights to Moscow since 1978, when Pan Am had ended theirs! In fact, negotiations during the early Gorbachev era to reopen access to Aeroflot to the US broke down because the Soviets refused to consider US requests for more market-based considerations. Pan Am had ended their flights to Moscow because the Soviets would only allow it if their citizens could pay in non-convertible Roubles.

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