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Ukraine to Close Airports to Russian Airlines

Passengers are seen inside a Transaero Boeing 737 aircraft at Kyiv International Airport in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sept. 25, 2015.

Ukraine says it is closing its airports to Russian airlines as part of a series of sanctions aimed at punishing Moscow for its support of pro-Russian rebels battling for control of Ukrainian territory near the Russian border.

Kyiv says the ban will begin October 25 and will include Russia's largest commercial carriers, Aeroflot and Transaero. Additionally, the directive signed by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk bans from Ukrainian airspace any Russian aircraft carrying military personnel or hardware.

Moscow described the Ukrainian measures as "an act of madness" that threatens all air travel between the two neighbors. It also threatened late Friday to retaliate with a ban on Ukrainian carriers.

Russia last year annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, ahead of a pro-Russian separatist rebellion launched in April 2014 that has claimed nearly 7,000 lives. Fighting has abated in recent weeks as international envoys and representatives from both sides seek full implementation of a peace deal signed in February.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko is slated to meet October 2 in Paris with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Germany and France for further talks on a political settlement to the crisis.

In a separate development, Moscow and Kyiv have reached a preliminary deal supplying Ukraine with natural gas through the upcoming winter months.

Under the deal, initialed Friday by negotiators, energy-dependent Kyiv will receive a discount price on Russian gas that will be determined quarterly. Those prices are expected to fall in line with those paid by neighboring Poland, another country from the ex-Soviet bloc that also largely depends on Russian gas supplies.

The deal, which would supply Ukraine with gas at about $227 per 1,000 cubic meters, must still be approved by both governments.