GlobalData’s Traveler Demands and Flows research pages showed a significant change in destinations visited by flights originating from Russia in 2023. 

Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian airlines have been banned from much of Europe’s airspace.

But not every country has joined the sanctions regime, and flight data sheds crucial light on which nations are benefitting from the restrictions on the Russian economy. 

In 2023 there is a clear outlier. Turkey has received more than 6.8 million flight arrivals from Russia, which is more than four million more flight arrivals than the next most popular destination, China. 

Why is this? 

There are several reasons, including a complicated political relationship between Presidents Putin and Erdoğan. While this has soured since Russia’s involvement in the Syrian war, Turkey’s position as mediator between Russia and Ukraine on the Black Sea grain deal is indicative of a still-open door between the leaders. 

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2019, pre-pandemic, pre-invasion

It is also key to note that Turkey’s position is not new.

Turkey’s share of the Russian aviation market has been building for more than a decade and overtook Ukraine and Egypt as top destinations in 2014. 

This is at least in part due to Turkish Airlines’ successful plan to market Istanbul as a new hub between Europe, Asia and Africa. 

Back in 2013, then-CEO Temel Kotil announced a growth plan similar to the Gulf airlines. This aimed to take advantage of a West-to-East economic shift, as China and Asian economies caught up with (and overtook) Europe and North America. 

GlobalData’s log shows 4.3 million Russian flights arrived in or travelled through Turkey in 2013. By 2019 that number reached 7.1 million, and Turkey was already the top destination for Russian flights. 

China was among the popular destinations, with more than 2.5 million flights, along with Spain, Ukraine, and Italy. 

What about 2023?

Turkey is top, followed by China. But the European destinations have all fallen flat, unsurprisingly.

In their place are a mix of East Asian and Central European (former USSR) states.

It has been well-publicised that Georgia became a popular destination for young Russians escaping war, and the draft, in 2022. That has continued to an extent, with 707,000 flights between the Caucus nation and Russia in 2023.

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan also feature on the latest flights ranking, with 779,000 and 895,000 flights from Russia respectively.

But three nations are significant growth areas, according to the available data, and have been pushed up the destination list as Russians’ choices have been curtailed by sanctions.

United Arab Emirates (another aviation hub), Thailand, and Egypt have all quickly climbed the ranks.

South East Asia has been a popular holiday destination for Europeans for at least two decades, but two nations, in particular, have benefited from a recent influx of Russian flights.

Thailand and Vietnam are both well-known to European and North American tourists, but in 2023 the pair’s open doors to Russian visitors have created a new boon.

2013 was the historical peak for Russian flight arrivals in Thailand, but its recovery since 2020 has only been matched by Turkey and Egypt.