Since Ukrain 50 planes were re-registered in Russia

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The flight paths of a private jet linked to a Russia oligarch before and after the Ukraine invasion
    • Instead of French Riviera, Belarus for jet linked to oligarch
    • Since Ukraine war, some 50 private jets re-registered in Russia
    • Sanctions limit destinations, harder to get spare parts
    • Now flying to Turkey, Dubai, China, ex-Soviet states

    In the two years before the war in Ukraine, a private Boeing 737 linked to Russian oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov criss-crossed the globe, taking in the French Riviera, the Maldives and Seychelles along with world capitals and financial centres.

    This year, instead of traditional playgrounds of the well-heeled, the jet has visited ex-Soviet states Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Belarus a handful of times, along with China, flight tracking data by Flightradar24 shows.

    In a sign of both the limitations and reach of Western sanctions in place since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, some of Russia’s rich and powerful are finding ways to keep personal jets airborne, Reuters reporting shows, but the restrictions have sharply curtailed where the planes can travel.

    The Boeing linked to Yevtushenkov was among at least 50 private jets re-registered under the Russian flag since the February 2022 invasion, according to previously unreported national aircraft registry data up to early August reviewed by Reuters.

    Several of the repatriated private jets were associated with prominent politicians and business figures, according to two senior Russian aviation industry sources, who were not authorised to speak to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    The two sources said Yevtushenkov personally used the Boeing-737, which until last year bore the logo of the company he founded, telecoms-to-timber conglomerate AFK Sistema (AFKS.MM), pictures on website Jetphotos show.

    Yevtushenkov said he would not respond to questions about the aircraft, including whether he uses the plane. Yevtushenkov formally ceded control of Sistema after the United Kingdom imposed sanctions on him last year. He remains the main shareholder of the group.

    Russia’s aviation authority, Rosaviatsiya, and the Ministry of Transport did not respond to requests for comment. There is no suggestion companies associated with the planes have contravened any sanctions with the repatriations or ongoing flights.

    SOME JETS ARE STRANDED

    Jurisdictions including Aruba and the Isle of Man, where some of the jets were previously registered, observe the Western sanctions. That had made it hard to get insurance, fuel and permits for Russian-owned planes flying under their flags, one of the sources said.

    Putting the planes under the Russian flag allows them to fly to and from nations that have not imposed a flight ban or where individual travellers are not sanctioned, including Turkey and Dubai.

    Despite such manoeuvres, more than half of Russia’s private and corporate jet fleet of around 400 remains stranded abroad or has been sold, the same source estimated, based on his extensive knowledge of the sector.

    The total number of business jets under the Russian flag is now 145, up from 97 as of early March 2022, according to the list.

    Because of sanctions, Russian planes are prohibited from entering the 27-country European Union, where Russia’s oligarchs previously flew frequently for business and leisure and where many private jets linked to them were registered before the war, tail numbers show.

    Both aviation sources, who organise and manage business jets, said some jet owners are flying from Russia to Turkey or ex-Soviet states and then chartering different aircraft to EU airports, providing the individuals were not under personal sanctions.

    Examples of this practice happen at least once a week, one of the sources added, without giving specific examples.

    According to customs data, some of the repatriated aircraft are linked to state enterprises and business leaders who have backed President Vladimir Putin in the war in Ukraine or who are associated with him.

    They include a Bombardier Challenger 650 the data shows was imported by Uralkali, a major fertiliser producer formerly led by Dmitry Mazepin – among the tycoons who attended a gathering of leading entrepreneurs led by Putin earlier this year.

    A Bombardier Global 6000 was imported by VEB.RF, a state-owned development bank led by Igor Shuvalov, a former first deputy prime minister.

    VEB, Uralkali and Mazepin did not respond to requests for comment on the registration of the jets in Russia.

    The customs data shows that most private aircraft repatriated after the outbreak of the war returned to Russia from ex-Soviet countries as well as from the UAE and Turkey.

    As in the case of the Boeing linked to Yevtushenkov, the other re-registered aircraft have avoided crossing into EU airspace and have kept to countries considered friendly to Russia, Flightradar24 data shows.

    CLIPPED WINGS

    In December 2021, the Boeing was photographed on the tarmac in Prague, bearing the Aruba-flagged registration P4-AFK, a picture on website Jetphotos shows. The plane sported grey stripes, along with the Sistema logo on its tail.

    Just over a year later, after the war had started, the plane appeared in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, according to a photo on Jetphotos. The tail number had changed to the Russian registration RA-73890 and the Sistema logo had been removed.

    But the engine covers still bore the identification P4-AFK and the grey stripes remained.

    Sistema declined to comment on the plane or its ownership. The United States added Sistema to its sanctions list on Nov. 2.

    Between early 2020 and the invasion of Ukraine, which Russian officials call a “special military operation”, P4-AFK made multiple trips to Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the Maldives, and one each to Croatia, the Czech Republic and the Seychelles, Flightradar24 data shows.

    It also travelled 105 times in Russia, 17 in France, eight in Italy, the United Arab Emirates and Latvia, five in Britain and four in Turkey.

    After the invasion began, the plane flew between airports in Turkey, UAE, Oman and Kazakhstan for the remainder of 2022, never crossing into EU territory. It made only 14 trips during that period.

    According to Russia’s aircraft registry, published on Rosaviatsiya’s website in August, the jet was registered under the Russian flag in late December.

    Customs data shows it was officially imported to Russia on Dec. 30 from Bishkek, the capital of ex-Soviet member Kyrgyzstan, after which its flights have been largely limited to Russia.

    So far in 2023, it has flown 47 times within Russia and a combined nine times to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus.

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