For a few weeks or so, I’ve been puzzling over what may have caused Russia to revoke overflight rights for Lufthansa Cargo flights to East Asia. Knowing Lufthansa maintains a hub in Astana, it wasn’t clear exactly what the Central Asia connection could be if it was merely, as I had suspected, an attempt to gouge more fees from the German carrier.
I misjudged them. It seems Russia wanted Lufthansa’s hub to be in Russia, and not Kazakhstan—Krasnoyarsk or Novosibirsk. After going into detail about the treaty-breaching behavior of Moscow in this case—including the lack of negotiation, the ultimatum, and the lack of warning—and how Germany is playing from a really weak hand, Vladimir Socom explains just what would be involved if Lufthansa goes through with this:
Should Lufthansa refuse to switch its hub from Kazakhstan to Siberia, its cargo business would instantly lose access to Russian air space. Alternative air routes circumventing Russia to fly to Kazakhstan and onward to Central Asia would be longer and correspondingly more costly in terms of fuel, delivery times, crew work hours, and wear-and-tear of planes. Lufthansa Cargo’s profitability would decline and its competitive edge would also suffer.
Switching the hub from Kazakhstan to Siberia would also involve onerous investment costs on Lufthansa. The German company would have to build modern infrastructure at Krasnoyarsk and/or Novosibirsk, if forced to switch its ground-based hub there. Those airports are affected by severe winter weather, involving safety risks and imposing high operating costs on the German company if it moves its hub there. Russia would have its airports modernized at the German company’s expense — a method that the Russian government is said to plan imposing on Western companies at a number of Russian airports.
Moreover, such costs “would hit far beyond Lufthansa itself,” according to Lufthansa Cargo CEO Carsten Spohr. German exporting companies, “and consequently Export Nation Germany, would be affected.” Even Klaus Mangold, a leading advocate of the German-Russian mutual-economic-dependence concept, observes that denial of access to Russian air space is part of a “power game that Russia is already pursuing with regard to energy” (Welt am Sonntag, November 4).
Well, yes. Even so, this is a heinous and arbitrary move. What’s more, Kazakhstan is losing all of the money Lufthansa now pays to maintain its hub at Astana. I’ve been unable to find any numbers, but it is a safe bet Lufthansa not only spent a considerable sum expanding the airport at Astana, but that it pays Kazakhstan a considerable sum to maintain its operations there. Now all of that is gone, thanks to Russian perfidy.
And I’m sure Gerhard Schroeder thought he was being oh so clever in building Nordstream. For Germany’s sake, I guess.