MOSCOW — It would be one of the world’s more unusual direct flights.
But bringing Syrian soldiers and civilians to a Black Sea resort is exactly what was on offer Tuesday, when a delegation from Crimea visited Damascus, the Syrian capital.
“We understand that restrictions related to trade, money transfers and tourism are similar to what we have in Crimea,” said Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov, Russia’s top official there. Both Syria and Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine four years ago, have been hit by Western sanctions, and their economies are struggling. “We should turn our minuses into our advantages,” Aksyonov said during his two-day trip to Syria.
The visiting cohort of government officials proposed linking Crimea’s capital of Simferopol by air with Damascus, a flight that would allow “both the civilian population and those who were at war” to vacation at a resort, according to Crimean tourism minister Vadim Volchenko. If established, the flight would be the first of its kind. Despite having a sleek new international airport, Crimea has not had international flights since its annexation.
The Syrian leadership got a taste of the Crimean seaside last summer, when the three teenage children of President Bashar al-Assad stayed at a resort that had been lavishly rebuilt with Kremlin funding. That trip highlighted just how close Assad’s ties with Russia have become since Moscow entered the Syrian conflict three years ago.
On his Instagram feed Tuesday, Aksyonov posted photos of meeting Assad in Damascus. Aksyonov bestowed the Syrian leader with a miniature version of a monument installed by Russia in Crimea in 2015, which honored its soldiers.
In return, Syrian officials gave the visitors baklava.
This is not the first time Crimea and Syria have attempted to forge closer ties. Last year, Crimea increased its grain exports to the Arab country, ensuring Assad could maintain production of the subsidized bread upon which his population so deeply relies.