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Reports: Russia demands Lebanon shut down airspace for Russian military drills

A Middle East Airlines plane at Beirut's Rafik Hariri airport.
A Middle East Airlines plane at Beirut's Rafik Hariri airport.
(Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.
  1. Russia is demanding that Lebanon suspend flights in and out of Beirut's international airport for three days, reports in both Lebanon's state media and the Daily Star newspaper say — effectively shutting down all commercial flights in and out of the country from Saturday to Monday.
  2. Russia will run a naval exercise in the Mediterranean that it claims will endanger commercial aircraft. The location of these exercises, Lebanon's official National News Agency says, "will bring air traffic to and from Beirut's airport to a complete halt."
  3. According to journalist Nour Samaha, Lebanon's transport minister has rejected Russia's request. Middle East Airlines, Lebanon's national carrier, says flights are going as normal (per BuzzFeed's Borzou Daragahi). It is unclear how Russia will respond if these reports are correct.

Russia is trying to force Lebanon to close its airspace on Lebanese Independence Day

Russia is reportedly telling Lebanon to shut down air travel for its only commercial airport while it runs what it says are military drills — a very unusual demand for one country to make of another, especially with only hours of notice.

There aren't a lot of details about the Russian military exercise, but it seems likely that it has something to do with Russia's bombing campaign in Syria. Whether Russia will continue with the exercise if Lebanon definitively denies the request to shut down its airspace remains to be seen.

If Russia eventually does strong-arm Lebanon into shutting down air travel for a few days, it probably won't endear many Lebanese to Moscow. Especially since the second day of the Russian request — November 22 — is Lebanese Independence Day. The irony isn't lost on anyone.

Walid Joumblatt, a well-known political figure in Lebanon, shared some thoughts about this development on Twitter: