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Virgin Atlantic will join forces with Russia’s Transaero Airlines and expand into Russia under a codeshare agreement unveiled yesterday.

The carrier also announced an extension of its codeshare deal with US Airways.

The moves are significant as Virgin Atlantic is seeking Heathrow slots to start its own services to Moscow and US Airways is pursuing a merger with British Airways’ partner American Airlines.

Virgin passengers will be able to book flights to Moscow with Transaero twice a day from September, while Transaero traffic to Heathrow will feed on to Virgin services to the US.

Transaero was recently awarded two of the 14 pairs of slots at Heathrow divested by BA as a condition of its takeover of BMI in April.

Virgin gave official notice this week that it will bid for the other 12 slot pairs, two of which must be used to operate to Moscow.

The UK carrier also announced the launch of its first short-haul services between Manchester and Heathrow, to begin in March.

Separately, US Airways is pursuing a merger with American Airlines, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Virgin Atlantic chief commercial officer Julie Southern said: “We’re thrilled to announce this code share with Transaero. This is also an exciting development in the relationship between Virgin Atlantic and US Airways.

“The agreement will allow us to satisfy demand for our brand in US cities where there is no direct Virgin Atlantic flight to London.”

Transaero chief executive Olga Pleshakova said: “We’re happy to establish an agreement with one of the world’s most-known airlines, Virgin Atlantic. I’m confident this will be the start of a long-term re