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Under the effect of sanctions, Russian planes operating in Africa for the United Nations are grounded


This is an unexpected consequence of the war in Ukraine. In four African countries, thousands of kilometers from the theater of operations, particularly in Sudan and Burkina Faso, United Nations (UN) agencies or missions but also, indirectly, humanitarian organizations have seen their movements hampered since Thursday. September 15, due to lack of planes and helicopters grounded by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) because of their Russian registration.

It all started at the beginning of March with the first international sanctions imposed on Russia, which had just attacked Ukraine. One of the measures applies to civil aviation, granting until March 28 to aircraft leasing companies to terminate all contracts signed with their Russian customers, airlines using their leased aircraft. Of the 980 passenger planes operated by Russia, 750 were then on hire-purchase to companies mainly registered in Ireland or Bermuda.

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Russia had quickly seized the aircraft concerned before assigning them a new registration – Russian, this time – without the previous one having been deregistered by their initial owners. Moscow also issued, unilaterally, authorization for their operation on international routes. So many initiatives that the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation has prohibited since it was adopted in 1944.

“These aircraft continued to operate without a valid certificate of airworthiness or radio station licence, and without assurance that the associated checks were carried out”notes the ICAO in a note of 1er september. What, according to this organization, with 193 Member States, dependent on the UN and guarantor of compliance with the rules of civil aviation, constitutes not only “offenses but also an immediate security risk” passengers and goods transported.

The UN explores alternative solutions

Russia had until September 15 to fall into line. Without a response from Moscow at the end of this period, the ICAO issued “a Bulletin of Significant Safety Concern”. Simultaneously, “all peacekeeping missions and UN agencies around the world have been requested to immediately refrain from charging [en matériels] commercial aircraft registered in the Russian Federation until further notice”says Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the UN Secretary General, who adds: “the Russian commercial air fleet under contract with the United Nations consists of forty-one helicopters (thirty-seven Mi-8s and four Mi-26s) and three Antonov An-74 cargo planes, in support of ten operations peacekeeping and political missions around the world, i.e. 22% of its fleet”. The UN is exploring alternative solutions. “It will take time and cost more,” slips a connoisseur of the file.

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In Burkina Faso, the only three helicopters used by the World Food Program (WFP) and humanitarian NGOs are Mi-8s, manufactured and registered in Russia. Their immobilization took everyone by surprise. The NGOs were informed by email of a “possible interruption of operations” September 13 only.

“Why wasn’t this better anticipated? », is surprised a humanitarian source wishing to remain anonymous. Like others, she fears a “dramatic impact on the populations in this country where 3.5 million inhabitants (out of a total of twenty million) need help. In some places NGOs were the only ones able to take care of them”, worries our interlocutor. Two replacement helicopters have just arrived in Ougadougou from where they should resume their rotations in the coming days.

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