Thousands of Russians stuck in Thailand as sanctions kick in

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BANGKOK, March 8 (Reuters) - Thousands of tourists from Russia are currently stranded in Thailand, officials said on Tuesday, as unprecedented Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine put a squeeze on Russians struggling to find flights and finances.

Flight cancellations, a rouble currency in free-fall and payment problems from Russian banks being cut off from the global SWIFT system has left more than 7,000 Russians in limbo in locations like Phuket, Koh Samui, Pattaya and Krabi, Thailand's tourism authority chief said.

"We have to be good hosts and take care of everybody," Yuthasak Supasorn told Reuters.

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"There are still Russian tourists on their way here," he added.

Russia's embassy in Bangkok did not immediately respond to request for comment on its citizens.

In 2019, Thailand received 1.4 million Russian visitors. In January, it counted about 23,000 Russians, representing about a fifth of the total arrivals.

About half of those stranded were on the island of Phuket.

"We've asked hotels to reduce prices and extend their stays," Phuket's tourism association president Bhummikitti Ruktaengam said.

Some visitors, when able, had used China's UnionPay after cards issued by Russian banks using U.S. payment firms Visa (V.N) and Mastercard stopped working, he said.

Visa and Mastercard announced on Saturday they were suspending operations in Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Russia has called its actions there a "special operation".

Though Thailand was among 141 countries that backed a United Nations resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops, it has not imposed any sanctions on Moscow.

Bhummikitti said hundreds of people from Ukraine were also stranded, mainly due to airport closures there.

He said efforts were being made to get stranded Russians onto flights to Moscow on Middle Eastern airlines and to arrange repatriation flights.

A proposal was being considered to allow the use of cryptocurrency for payments at hotels, flights and other businesses in Phuket, he said.

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Editing by Martin Petty

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