From aircraft seizures to covert shipments: Russia's aerial response to global pressure

  • Western countries imposed heavy sanctions on Russia after the 2022 Ukraine invasion, impacting the Russian aviation sector.
  • Russia responded with countermeasures, including seizing western-built airliners and sourcing plane parts from alternative avenues.
  • Some aircraft leasing companies might receive compensation from Russia's National Wealth Fund for the seized planes.

MOSCOW — When the global community, led by western powers, sanctioned Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, it seemed the Russian aviation sector might be grounded for good. But, showing resilience, Russia's aviation industry looked for alternative avenues to keep itself airborne.

The stringent sanctions restricted airspace in the US and EU, and key manufacturers, such as Boeing and Airbus, were barred from delivering essential aircraft parts to Russia. In a display of resourcefulness, Russian carriers, including notable names like Aeroflot and S7 Airlines, ventured into unconventional solutions. They tapped into second-hand markets in countries like Iran and China, while some even took parts from their existing fleet to repair other planes. This methodology, though innovative, has its drawbacks. Such 'patchwork' planes might not find favor outside Russia, and the use of unverified parts could raise safety concerns. An alarming trend, emphasized by reports about airlines such as Aeroflot allegedly overlooking safety for savings, adds to these worries.

In a bold move, the Kremlin retaliated by confiscating around 500 western-made airplanes. Valued roughly at $10 billion, this action forced many western leasing countries into a challenging spot. With airspace restrictions and the Russian government's stance, most had no alternative but to give up on their claims to these aircraft.

But the resilience of Russia's aviation realm extended beyond just adapting. In 2022, Russia managed to bypass the sanctions, securing over $14 million worth of western-made parts via clandestine routes. And as repercussions of the aircraft confiscations, massive insurance claims emerged, although many faced rejections by the insurance firms.

Yet, the situation seems to be turning favorable for some of the aggrieved leasing companies. Russia, in a gesture towards resolution, is preparing to offer compensation from its National Wealth Fund (NWF). As reported by the Russian media house, TASS, an allocation of 300 billion rubles (close to $4 billion) has been set aside from the NWF for this purpose. Thanks to a specific clause in the sanctions, leasing companies in the European Union are eligible to receive this compensation. While the precise timeline for these payments remains uncertain, there's a collective push to wrap up by September, as voiced by Russia's deputy minister of transport, Igor Chalik.

Russia's NWF, which stood at a formidable $145.6 billion at the beginning of July, has seen a slight dip from the previous month, reflecting the economic challenges faced amidst global tensions.