Israeli flag carrier El Al has refuted allegations it is accepting online payments for flights through Russia’s homegrown electronic payments system after Western services from Visa, Mastercard, and American Express were disconnected in the last few days.
Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, blasted the Tel Aviv-based airline on Monday claiming the carrier still allowed Russians to buy flights via Russia’s Mir payments system.
El Al supported Mir payments alongside Visa and Mastercard, but the two U.S. financial institutions pulled the plug on their Russia operations over the weekend.
Visa chief executive Al Kelly said the company was “compelled to act” because of “Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the unacceptable events that we have witnessed.”
In a statement, Mastercard said it had “decided to suspend our network services in Russia”.
“For more than a week, the world has watched the shocking and devastating events resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Our colleagues, our customers and our partners have been affected in ways that most of us could not imagine,” the statement, posted on Saturday, continued.
But Russia has been building its own independent payment systems for years, and Mir allows Russian consumers to continue spending their money through credit and debit card transactions.
“While the world sanctions Russia for its barbaric atrocities in Ukraine, some prefer to make money soaked in Ukrainian blood,” slammed Kuleba in a tweet aimed at El Al on Monday.
Sharing a screenshot of El Al’s online booking tool, Kuleba said: “Here is El Al accepting payments in Russian banking system ‘Mir’ designed to evade sanctions. Immoral and a blow to Ukrainian-Israeli relations.”
El Al continues to serve Moscow with daily flights, and unlike a slew of other countries, including major allies like the United States and the United Kingdom, the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has chosen not to sanction Russia or ban its aircraft from its airspace.
Bennett travelled to Moscow on Saturday and met with President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to act as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine. Bennett held a follow-up call with Putin on Sunday in an attempt to break a deadlock with Ukraine.
Analysts believe Israel is said to be afraid of angering Putin because Moscow supports Jeruselum on a number of key issues includng Syria and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Some reports suggest the U.S. administration is supporting Israel as a potential peacemaker.
But despite Israel’s efforts not to anger Putin, El Al has refuted claims it is still accepting Mir enabled payments, saying it stopped using the system on February 28.
“We are sorry that no simple check was made with us before the misleading tweet,” the airline said in a tweet originally posted in Hebrew. “The facts are different,” the translated tweet continued.
“With the closure of airspace, El Al flew hundreds of tons of humanitarian and medical equipment to Ukraine and rescued orphans and refugees.”
On Tuesday, Kuleba deleted his original tweet and was forced to issue an embarrassing apology in which he acknowledged that while the Mir payment button is still on El Al’s website, the actual system has been blocked.
“I am grateful to El Al for its important humanitarian operations and covey my apologies,” the tweet continued.
El Al is one of only a select few carriers still operating flights to Russia. On Tuesday, Russian carriers will suspend all international services over fears that leased aircraft will be seized by lessors at foreign airports.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.