Thirty-five years ago, on September 5, 1983, Canada’s External Affairs Minister Allan J. MacEachen and Transport Minister Lloyd Axworthy announced that Canada would suspend all flights by Aeroflot into Canada for 60 days. The move came in response to the September 1, 1983, downing of a South Korean airliner (KAL Flight 007, flying from New York to Seoul via Anchorage, Alaska) by a K-8 missile fired by a Soviet Su-15 interceptor jet.
Ukrainians had urged the Canadian government to adopt tougher and more robust sanctions. Separate letters sent by the Ontario and Ottawa branches of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee (now known as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress), as well as Sen. Paul Yuzyk, urged the Canadian government to “immediately suspend all commercial air travel with the USSR and… demand a full inquiry into this most tragic event.”
On September 7, the UCC urged the Canadian government to extend the air travel suspension for an indefinite period, noting that the 60-day period was an insufficient response for such a brutal act. “People are indignant for a year and then they say ‘let’s forget about it,’ ” said A. J. Yaremovich, executive director of the UCC, adding that the air travel ban should be in effect until the Soviets make a “definite admittance” to their actions. Mr. Yaremovich said he would urge the Canadian government to seek international action aimed at restricting Soviet landing rights in other countries. Coordinated action, he said, would create a much bigger impact in Moscow.
Among the 269 victims of the tragedy were several Canadian citizens, which prompted the move. Aeroflot had flights arriving in Mirabel Airport in Montreal twice daily at the time, and was forced to have planes land in Mexico City and Cuba. Additional measures included an idea to suspend plans to sign an agreement that would have allowed Aeroflot flights to refuel at Gander airport in Newfoundland.
Eugene Bozbnyakov, the Soviet Embassy press attaché, brushed off the sanctions, claiming that the measures would hurt those who imposed them rather than the intended target. However, no retaliatory actions were announced by the Soviets.
The Ukrainian National Association sent a telegram to U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the aftermath of the tragedy. “Mr. President… we grieve for the loss of Congressman Larry MacDonald (D-Ga.). We urge you to use the power of your office to put a stop to the Soviet violations of international rules of behavior.”
President Reagan stated in a speech on September 5: “They [the Soviets] owe the world an apology and an offer to join the rest of the world in working out a system to protect against this ever happening again.”
The U.S. called on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to investigate the Soviet action and reaffirm previous American denial of landing rights for Aeroflot, and expand those efforts to achieve worldwide curbs on Aeroflot’s landing rights.
The Soviets attempted to suppress the evidence sought by the ICAO, and the flight recorders were recovered by the Soviets but were not released until eight years after the incident, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This year, the U.S. has announced sanctions that are set to go into effect in November that would bar Aeroflot flights from landing in the U.S. The sanctions are part of the U.S. response to Russia’s use of a Novichok nerve agent against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, in March.
Sources: “Ottawa bars Aeroflot flights; Ukrainians urge more sanctions,” by Mykhailo Bociurkiw, and “UNA reacts to jetliner downing,” The Ukrainian Weekly, September 11, 1983.