President Vladimir Putin on Saturday dismissed concerns that some sort of martial law or emergency situation could be declared in Russia.
Putin’s comment followed days of speculation that the introduction of martial law could be imminent.
He said such a measure was imposed only when there was significant internal or external threat. “We don’t plan to introduce any kind of special regime on Russian territory — there is currently no need,” Putin said.
However, in recent days the Russian government has been forced to clamp down on protests against the war in Ukraine. Measures have also been taken to rein in the media.
The Russian president said the Western sanctions were akin to a declaration of war and warned that any attempt by any country to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine would be tantamount to entering the conflict.
Putin reiterated that his aims in Ukraine were to defend Russian-speaking communities through the “demilitarisation and de-Nazification” of the country so that it became neutral.
Ukraine and Western countries have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for the invasion he launched on Feb 24 and have imposed a sweeping range of sanctions aimed at isolating Moscow.
“These sanctions that are being imposed are akin to a declaration of war but thank God it has not come to that,” Putin said, speaking to a group of women flight attendants at an Aeroflot training centre near Moscow.
He said there were no conscripts involved in the military operation in Ukraine, which he said was being carried out only by professional soldiers.
“There is not one conscript and we don’t plan for there to be,” Putin said. “Our army will fulfil all the tasks. I don’t doubt that at all. Everything is going to plan.”
Russia’s flagship airline Aeroflot said on Saturday that it was suspending all its international flights beginning March 8.
An Aeroflot statement on the “temporary suspension of all international flights from March 8,” cited new “circumstances that impede the operation of flights,” noting that all domestic routes would continue unchanged as well as flights to neighbouring Belarus.
Russia’s civil aviation body on Saturday said it had “recommended” Russian airlines operating rental planes registered in foreign countries cease flights abroad in order to avoid the seizure of the planes in connection with Western sanctions.
“As a result, such flights overseas are due to cease at 2100 GMT on Saturday, and flights from abroad at 2100 GMT on Monday,” civil aviation agency Rosaviatsia said in a statement.
“This recommendation is due to the very high risk of grounding or arrest of the aircraft of Russian companies abroad,” he added. More than half of the commercial aircraft in Russia are leased, according to Aviation Week, an industry publication.
Rosaviatsia also recommended Russians seeking to return home from foreign countries arrange flights transiting through countries that had not joined sanctions, such as Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Qatar, the UAE, Turkey and Serbia.
Another Russian carrier, S7, announced the suspension of all its international flights due to sanctions imposed on Russia over the country’s invasion of Ukraine last week.
The airline sector was one of the first to be affected by the economic fallout from the Ukrainian conflict.