Russian private jet owners are switching the French Riviera and the Seychelles for Dubai and Turkey.
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, reporting by news agency Reuters shows. But the restrictions have sharply curtailed where the planes can travel.
Where are Russian travellers sanctioned?
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.
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.
How are Russian jet owners getting around the travel sanctions?
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.
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.
Private jet owners’ wings have been clipped following invasion of Ukraine
Between early 2020 and the invasion of Ukraine, Yevtushenkov’s Boeing 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 30 December 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, Belarus and China.