On 10 May, Russia announced that it would lift the suspension on flights between Russia and Georgia; Russian carrier Azimuth subsequently carried out the first flight from Moscow to Tbilisi since 2019 on 19 May. The move, approved by the ruling party Georgian Dream, led to widespread protests in the Georgian capital, with participants concerned that strengthening ties with Russia would damage Georgia’s prospects of EU membership. The latest development has prompted international responses, with representatives of the European Union expressing concern over Georgia’s deviation from EU foreign policy. Georgian president Salome Zourabichvili has echoed this sentiment and encouraged Georgian authorities to stop the Russian initiative. Georgian Airways, the country’s privately owned flag carrier, has responded by banning Zourabichvili from its services and designating her persona non grata. In addition, Ukrainian foreign minister Oleg Nikolenko has reacted by accusing Georgia of undermining international efforts to isolate Russia with a view to stopping the war.
In its most recent report, investigative news outlet Proekt has revealed a series of Russian aviation malpractices. Its findings state that Aeroflot has been encouraging its employees to avoid recording and reporting equipment malfunctions and defects to prevent potential grounding issues; as a result, the airline’s planes regularly take flight with defective equipment installed, endangering the lives of their passengers. The report is corroborated by several unofficial sources, who also claim that the practice is also observed by other airlines within Russia.
Rostransnadzor has identified more than 2000 flights completed in Russia in 2022, conducted by aircraft with expired spare parts installed. The head of the service, Viktor Basargin, also claimed that unscheduled inspections had revealed substantial shortages of vital components. In response to the report, Aeroflot has denied using expired spare parts, insisting that the airline’s compliance and quality control procedures were in line with industry requirements. Officials from Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee have further defended the country’s under-fire maintenance practices, alleging that Russia’s flight safety ratings for 2022 were at their highest since 2018. The IAC cites comparatively fewer aviation-related fatalities as the basis for this claim.
A U.S.-based trade data aggregator, Import Genius, has shown that millions of dollars of aircraft parts have been sent to sanctioned Russian airlines from the US via an illicit network of suppliers designed to bypass restrictions set out in international sanctions. According to The New York Times, over 5000 shipments reached Russia over a period of eight months in 2022, containing spare parts worth up to $290 000. In addition, two Russians suspected of involvement in the activity have been arrested in the US for the circumvention of export sanctions. According to investigators, the parts were supplied to at least three Russian airlines (two of which are explicitly named by sanctions) via Turkey.
The Week – Georgia criticized for resuming direct flights to Russia (English)
Real’noye Vremya – Vladimir Putin lifts ban on Russian airlines flying to Georgi (Russian)
Proekt – Is it safe to fly Russian airlines now (Russian)
Novaya Gazeta – Rostransnadzor identifies over 2000 flights conducted in Russia in 2022 with expired spare parts (Russian)
Krasnaya Vesna – Aeroflot: we do not use expired aircraft components (Russian)
Vedomosti – IAC announces improvement of flight safety in Russia (Russian)
NY TImes – U.S.-made technology is flowing to Russian airlines, despite sanctions (English)