EXCLUSIVE: Irish government rejected Ukraine’s appeal to ban Russia from leasing planes after annexation of Crimea
The government rejected an appeal by Ukraine to divest Russia’s Aeroflot from Irish aircraft rental companies following the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Ukraine’s special envoy for sanctions revealed for the first time.
Leksii Makeiev, who was then the political director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said that Irish Independent in an interview that Kyiv has lobbied both Ireland and the EU to terminate aircraft lease deals with the Kremlin’s flagship airline following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Just this year, following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian airlines were banned from leasing Irish-owned planes, a move that has landed hundreds of billions of euros worth of planes in Russia.
“We tried to lobby the government but we didn’t find any government support,” said Mr Makeiev, speaking during a work trip to Brussels. “Sanctions are a matter of state and leasing companies wouldn’t stop making money unless it’s prohibited or they see reason it would damage their image. Regulation must come first, but unfortunately our partners have been reluctant to support the idea of not offering leasing services.”
In August 2014, Aeroflot grounded all flights for its low-cost subsidiary after an aircraft lease was canceled when the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea in March of the same year.
Dobrolet (Good Flight) airline started operations in June 2014 and made its maiden flight to Simferopol, the capital of Crimea.
However, just over a month later, Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine and the EU sanctioned some Russian state-owned companies.
Dobrolet was specifically targeted for flights to Crimea. Irish lessors, including SMBC Aviation Capital, canceled leases, while Germany’s Lufthansa Technik ended maintenance contracts.
Dobrolet has received two Boeing 737-800 aircraft and there were plans to buy another eight aircraft in 2015.
Aeroflot then launched a new low-cost airline called Pobeda (Victory), a symbol of resistance to Western sanctions, in December 2014, just a month after the closure of its predecessor Dobrolet.
The two Boeing 737-800 aircraft leased to Dobrolet eventually landed at Pobeda via a brief stopover with Orenair, another Russian state airline.
At this point, the Ukrainian government began to press Ireland and the leasing companies, which are mainly based in Ireland, to terminate all contracts with their Russian customers.
“We called on the West to introduce sanctions against companies like Aeroflot that flew to occupied Crimea,” Mr Makeiev said. “We had suggested to the leasing companies not to lease planes to Russia because they were used in Crimea.”
“Unfortunately, the world thought that a smoldering war did not warrant a stronger response,” he said. “That’s why the whole concept of sanctions as a preventive measure failed because they weren’t strong enough. Today’s sanctions, while welcome, are more punitive than preventive.”
Since 2014 we have called Russia a pariah state
EU airspace is currently closed to almost all Russian planes due to sanctions imposed on Moscow for its February 24 invasion of Ukraine. The EU list includes all major Russian airlines, including Aeroflot, Pobeda, S7, Rossiya, UTair and Ural Airlines.
That Irish Independent broke the news on February 27 that Irish leasing companies would be forced to cancel all leases of Russian aircraft as part of the sanctions package in response to the Russian invasion.
The measures imposed on Russia prompted a run by lessors to try to lease more than 500 aircraft, valued at an estimated $10bn. Irish-based lessors were hardest hit, with aircraft worth more than $4bn sold to Russian airlines were leased.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, has enacted a law allowing foreign planes leased by its airlines to be included in the country’s domestic register, effectively allowing them to continue flying domestically.
On May 13, Aeroflot shocked the airline industry when it announced it had purchased eight Airbus A330 aircraft from unnamed foreign leasing companies “as part of fulfilling contractual obligations.”
Mr Makeiev said that the initial sectoral sanctions imposed over the annexation of Crimea were effective, but due to US and EU policies to reintegrate Russia into the civilized international community and make it a good partner, were not followed up.
“This policy has failed,” he said.
“We have been calling Russia a pariah state since 2014 because they have seized 7.2 percent of our territory in Crimea and part of the Donbass regions. We have seen them strengthened by the lack of response from the West.”
“What we need now to win this war is more weapons, more sanctions and more financial support as the Ukrainian economy is struggling at this time of war.”
Mr Makeiev said he was not surprised to hear that Irish-based lessors had campaigned to only include future leases in the sanctions package.
“That’s what companies try to do when there is no regulation, and we appreciate that this decision was made and Russian skies were closed to Russian flights,” he said.
“We’ve seen what’s happening to these planes in Russia and it’s a big problem in terms of aviation safety if they continue to fly these planes without the right technical support.”
The Federal Foreign Office had not responded to a request for comment at the time of going to press.
https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/exclusive-irish-government-rejected-ukraine-appeal-to-ban-russia-leasing-planes-after-annexation-of-crimea-41672464.html EXCLUSIVE: Irish government rejected Ukraine’s appeal to ban Russia from leasing planes after annexation of Crimea