Over the course of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it has been alleged that nearly sixty aircraft from Russia’s state aviation fleet were illegally transferred abroad by Rosaviatsiya, the Kremlin’s Air Transport Agency. According to Russia’s national newspaper, some of these aircraft ended up in “unfriendly” countries.
The details of this alleged illegal transfer were reported by the pro-Kremlin news site Izvestia. It stated that a joint raid was carried out on the offices of Rosaviatsiya by the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The purpose of this raid was to investigate accusations that 59 aircraft, including fixed-wing planes and helicopters, had been illegally exported since the start of the invasion of Ukraine. It is believed that some of these aircraft were subsequently provided to Kyiv for use against Putin’s “special military operation.”
Out of the 59 aircraft that were illegally deregistered, 21 were sold to states outside the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and eight were sold to unnamed “unfriendly” countries. Some of these aircraft left Russia as charter or cargo flights but never returned, and there was no formal documentation regarding their temporary or permanent removal.
Russian law enforcement sources cited by Izvestia revealed that at least three Mi-8 helicopters and two Il-76 transport aircraft were identified as being used in operations by Ukraine. Other aircraft have been tracked down in Moldova and Azerbaijan, but there are still some that remain unaccounted for.
The investigation into this alleged illegal transfer was sparked by an audit of Rosaviatsiya’s aircraft registry in July 2023. The audit revealed that agency employees had unlawfully deregistered the airplanes and helicopters, which goes against legislation enacted after the 2022 invasion. As a result, two senior employees of Rosaviatsiya, Kristina Byvalina and Petr Kozyrev, were taken into custody.
Documents and objects that confirm the illegality of the actions of Rosaviatsiya employees and other unidentified individuals involved in the deregistration of the aircraft were seized during the investigation. It is also possible that additional criminal cases could be opened against the former head of Rosaviatsiya, Alexander Neradko, and Anna Zhiltsova, Byvalina’s former deputy.
This alleged illegal transfer of aircraft has raised serious concerns about Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine. As the investigation continues, it remains to be seen what further actions will be taken to hold those responsible accountable.