No fly: US to effectively ground 100 aircraft that flew to Russia

US lists Russian aircraft it says may have violated export controls, including one used by businessman Roman Abramovich.

An Aeroflot plane
The US, Canada and much of Europe have barred Russian planes from flying over their airspace as they exert pressure on Moscow over the war in Ukraine [File: Marina Lystseva/Reuters]

The United States has moved to effectively ground 100 aircraft that it says recently flew to Russia, including a plane used by Russian businessman Roman Abramovich, and may have violated US export controls.

The US Department of Commerce on Friday published a list of 99 Boeing aeroplanes operated by Russian passenger and cargo carriers – including Aeroflot, AirBridge Cargo, Utair, Nordwind, Azur Air and Aviastar-TU – as well as Abramovich’s Gulfstream G650.

Providing any service to these aircraft without authorisation risks violating US export regulations, the department said in a statement, and could incur “substantial jail time, fines, loss of export privileges, or other restrictions”.

“By preventing these aircraft from receiving any service, for example including from abroad, international flights from Russia on these aircraft are effectively grounded,” the statement said.

The move came as US President Joe Biden’s administration continues to impose restrictions on Russian officials, companies and other entities as part of an effort to pressure President Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine.

Russia launched an all-out invasion of the country in late February, and its weeks-long bombardment of Ukrainian cities and towns has internally displaced millions of people and forced millions more to flee Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pushed the country’s western allies to do more to help amid continuing Russian attacks, including by providing more weapons and establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine. But the US and NATO have rejected that latter demand, saying it would lead to a direct confrontation between Washington and Moscow.

This week, after Zelenskyy addressed the US Congress, Biden announced his administration would provide an additional $800m in military assistance to Ukraine, including 800 anti-aircraft systems, thousands of shoulder-mounted missiles and other equipment, such as drones.

The US earlier this month also launched what it dubbed “KleptoCapture” – an initiative seeking to hold accountable Russia’s wealthy elite and ensure US sanctions imposed amid the war in Ukraine are being enforced.

On Friday, the Department of Commerce released specific tail numbers of the targeted planes, including 33 Boeing planes operated by Aeroflot AFLT.MM, and 12 Boeing 747 cargo planes operated by AirBridge Cargo, a unit of Russia’s biggest cargo airline Volga-Dnepr Group.

Aeroflot and a spokesperson for Abramovich, who owns the English football club Chelsea, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Reuters news agency. Abramovich said this month that he plans to sell the club and donate money from the sale to victims of the Ukraine war.

Volga-Dnepr declined to immediately comment but said Friday it has suspended all flights using Boeing aircraft, citing sanctions and a decision by Bermuda’s Civil Aviation Authority to terminate their safety certificates.

The US, Canada and much of Europe have barred Russian planes from flying over their airspace, which has forced the cancellation of many of Russia’s international flights.

The rules apply to any US-manufactured aircraft or any with more than 25 percent US-origin controlled content that were re-exported to Russia after the new stringent controls on aviation-related items for Russia took effect on February 24.

Moscow took a first step this week towards keeping its commercial fleet flying by allowing its airlines to re-register leased planes in Russia, giving local authorities direct control over the certificates of airworthiness needed for each jet.

In Friday’s statement, US Secretary of Commerce Gina M Raimondo said the department was “demonstrating the power and reach of the actions we took over the past few weeks in response to Russia’s brutal war of choice against Ukraine”.

“We are publishing this list to put the world on notice – we will not allow Russian and Belarusian companies and oligarchs to travel with impunity in violation of our laws,” Raimondo said.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters