The announcement by the President of the EU Commission was actually unmistakable. “Our airspace will be closed to Russian planes – and that includes the private jets of oligarchs,” Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels on February 27. Three days earlier, Russian troops had invaded Ukraine. In addition to the commercial flight business, the airspace closure should primarily affect wealthy businessmen who have been loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin for years.
But that only works to a limited extent. Private planes belonging to rich Russians are still circling over Europe. In total, WELT AM SONNTAG has been able to identify around 30 flights by suspected Russian private jets and helicopters through European airspace since the beginning of the EU sanctions.
The data of these flights are publicly available via flight tracking websites. The planes have credible evidence that they are owned or controlled by Russian businessmen. In mid-March, British authorities pulled a Cessna jet with the registration G-LATO out of service in south London. The Ministry of Transport in London attributes the Cessna to the Russian oil billionaire Yevgeny Markowitsch Schwidler.
Schwidler is considered a friend of Putin’s confidant and ex-football club owner Roman Abramovich. Before the confiscation in London, Schwidler’s private jet had flown eight more times through the EU, several times through German airspace. His last trip to London also began on March 18 in Hamburg, where nobody stopped the jet from taking off.
The German authorities were taken by surprise on the first day of the airspace closure. At 6:20 p.m. on February 28, an Airbus took off from Munich Airport that, according to the US sanctions list, is attributed to the oligarch Alisher Usmanov. The jet flew – like another Usmanov machine from Florence on the same day – to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Nobody felt responsible on the German side.
On request, the Federal Aviation Office referred to the local air traffic control. The southern Bavarian air authority saw the government of Upper Bavaria as responsible. She explained that only the Federal Ministry of Transport could answer questions about the flight. However, the ministry referred the request back to the Federal Aviation Office. Today the ministry denies that mistakes were made. Violations of German airspace by civil aircraft under Russian control are not known. A spokesman for Usmanov denied any wrongdoing to the British Guardian.
An EU official admits: “Enforcing sanctions against business jets and helicopters registered outside Russia and owned by non-Russian companies is sometimes more difficult due to opaque ownership structures.” But even those planes are gradually being phased out be withdrawn from circulation if the evidence is corroborated. Front companies and offshore registrations are often used to disguise the true ownership of the machines.
One such example is the Bombardier aircraft registered T7-7AA. The aircraft is registered in San Marino and managed by a Swiss company. It is reportedly owned by Russian businessman Albert Avdolyan. Still, the jet was able to fly from Nice to Istanbul on March 2.
A Luxembourg-registered jet, which according to Forbes belongs to the Russian-Ukrainian oligarch Wiktor Wekselberg, was also able to leave Europe in April. The plane took off from Basel, crossed EU airspace and landed in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan.
A helicopter belonging to Russian billionaire Alexander Zanadvorov seems to be flying through France completely undisturbed. At least eight flights of the Airbus helicopter can be proven after the start of the airspace closure.
Researchers than the EU, the British are taking action against machines with a possible Russia connection. On April 1, a Gulfstream G550 plane arriving from Dubai was arrested at London Luton Airport. In the past, the Libyan warlord Chalifa Haftar had chartered the jet. Yevgeny Prigozhin, Putin’s confidant and suspected financier of the Wagner militia, is said to have used the plane to travel to Africa.
The British authorities spent around four weeks investigating the background to the aircraft, which officially belongs to a company based in the United Arab Emirates. Only then was the jet allowed to take off again. A flight ban is no longer in the public interest after the investigation has been completed, the ministry told this newspaper. The plane landed in Rotterdam on Monday.