Sri Lanka, which has been marred by internal strife, has courted a new controversy as it has stranded a Russian civilian aircraft in which around 200 people were on board.
The Russian-operated airplane was seized in Sri Lanka shortly before it was due to return to Moscow, airport authorities said. The Aeroflot Airbus A330 — which had arrived from Moscow — was not allowed to return following an order from Colombo Commercial Court, said an official for Bandaranaike International Airport.
Aeroflot — Russia’s flagship carrier —— had suspended all international flights in March following Western sanctions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine but had resumed operations to Colombo in April.
Why Did Lanka Do It?
Sri Lankan authorities have stressed that they took the step after receiving a complaint from Celestial Aviation Trading Limited in Ireland.
The company had filed for action against Aeroflot pending arbitration on the lease of the Airbus A330 aircraft in London. Moscow, in retaliation, had summoned the Sri Lankan ambassador over the issue.
The incident has triggered a new diplomatic row which has begun due to European Union and US sanctions on Russia over its war against Ukraine. Ironically, Canada has also done the same on June 3 and had impounded a Russian plane.
It is standard policy these days that countries seek aircraft on lease, but the recent EU order to member states to “take back” their aircraft from Russia had led to the incident. The EU has accused Russia of having “stolen” around 400 aircraft.
The European grouping’s diktat follows a statement by Russian Prime Minister Yuri Borisov that all foreign leased aircraft would remain in Russia after their contracts expire.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced Western powers to order immediate termination of leasing contracts for over 500 aircraft, with 78 out of these planes being seized and another 400 remaining.
In response, Moscow passed a law allowing aircraft worth over €950 billion to be added to its register. Furthermore, Bermuda and Ireland, where most of the planes are registered, have suspended certificates of airworthiness, which orders such aircraft to be grounded.
How Did Lanka Get Caught In The Row?
Colombo, which is grappling with its internal strife, has no reason to make Moscow angry as the country is heavily dependent on Russian crude oil. Caught in a Catch-22 situation, Colombo is staring at uncertainty as irking EU, NATO, US, and other financial institutions like IMF will further push Lanka into an economic quagmire.
Now, perhaps, Sri Lanka will enter into time-buying tactics, and make arrangements to make the 200 Russians return home, and try to negotiate with Ireland, the EU, and also impress upon Russia, which has warned the Lankan government that the Russian Federation has “urged the Sri Lankan side to settle this problem as soon as possible to avoid its negative impact on traditionally friendly bilateral relations.”
The fallout of the Russian war on Ukraine is now all out and impacting even small nations like Sri Lanka, which have been caught in the crossfire. This controversy is not to die anytime soon, as all the big players are into the play, with Sri Lanka caught in the middle.
Let’s see how the issue gets resolved and does now snowball into any big controversy. Maybe India might also intervene to douse the situation.
Meanwhile, there are reports that the Sri Lankan court has suspended a verdict barring an Aeroflot plane from leaving Sri Lanka, Tass reported citing local news agencies.
According to the report, the verdict was suspended after the Colombo Commercial High Court considered a petition filed by the attorney general. The Attorney General’s Department chose to file such a petition after deliberation of the severe outcomes.
A high-ranking source close to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority told a Tass correspondent earlier that it is likely that the airplane can now leave the country.
(The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner and writes on international issues.) VIEWS PERSONAL