Lithuania closes its airspace to Russian airlines, ending direct flights to Kaliningrad exclave

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Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte speaks to media at the border guard headquarters near the border with Belarus, in Kapciamiestis, Lithuania November 10, 2021. RUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

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VILNIUS, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Lithuania will ban Russian airlines from using its airspace from 2200 GMT on Saturday, the government said, joining other European countries which have taken the same step following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Lithuania is the shortest route from mainland Russia to its Kaliningrad exclave, sandwiched between NATO members Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea's eastern coast. The ban would force Russian flights to take a longer detour via the Baltic Sea.

"No flights for aggressor planes in the freedom sky," Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte tweeted after a government meeting.

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Russian forces pounded Ukrainian cities with artillery and cruise missiles on Saturday for a third day running. read more

Lithuania's northern neighbour Latvia has also decided to close its airspace for Russian aircraft from midnight to Sunday local time (2200 GMT), the country's foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics said on Twitter.

The third Baltic state, Estonia, is expected to do the same, its minister of economic affairs said on Saturday.

The moves follow similar closures of airspace of the UK, Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Romania to Russia's aircraft. Russia has retaliated by banning airlines of these countries from flying on its territory.

An Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Kaliningrad on Saturday used Belarus and Lithuanian airspace, according to Flightradar24 tracking website. A Rossiya airline flight from Kaliningrad to St Petersburg flew over all three Baltic states, the website showed.

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Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Nerijus Adomaitis; Editing by David Clarke and Clelia Oziel

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