Seized By Canada, Russian An-124 ‘Ruslan’, One Of World’s Biggest Cargo Aircraft, Heading To Ukraine

In a new set of sanctions, the Canadian government plans to send a seized Russian Antonov An-124 aircraft, called the Ruslan, to Ukraine. 

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has announced that Canada has agreed to hand over an Antonov An-124 seized from the Russian cargo company Volga-Dnepr. 

Shmyhal stated that the agreement to transfer the seized Antonov An-124 from Canada to Ukraine was made after a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Christie Freeland.

Shmyhal has been traveling throughout North America since April 11, 2023, visiting the United States and Canada. 

The Canadian government recently imposed new sanctions that included the confiscation of the Antonov An-124 from Volga-Dnepr Group, along with sanctions targeting two of its subsidiaries, Volga-Dnepr Airlines and AirBridge Cargo Airlines.

Ukraine to receive An-124 Ruslan aircraft confiscated by Canada from Russia
An-124-100 aircraft of the Russian Volga-Dnepr airline. Photo credits: Russian media

Apart from the Antonov An-124 aircraft, Canada is also planning to transfer other assets of Volga-Dnepr, a Russian company, to Ukraine as part of the new sanctions.

Shmyhal said, “A new package of sanctions against Russia from Canada. In particular, against the Volga-Dnepr. We are preparing to confiscate the An-124 aircraft and other assets of the aggressor in Canada and transfer them to Ukraine.”

An Antonov An-124 operated by Volga-Dnepr Group with registration RA-82078 is currently stranded at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) since February 27, 2022. The aircraft arrived in Toronto from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) in Alaska, USA. 

On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, leading to severe international sanctions being placed on the nation’s aviation industry. 

These restrictions have made it impossible for aircraft with Russian registrations and their affiliates to fly over the airspace of several other nations, including Canada, the US, and Europe.  

Four of the ten Antonov An-124s operated by Volga-Dnepr Group’s subsidiary, Volga-Dnepr Airlines, are grounded at foreign airports.

Apart from the one currently stuck at Toronto Pearson International Airport, three more Ruslans are stranded at Leipzig/Halle Airport in Germany. 

Russian Operators Struggle With Sanctions

When Canada closed the skies to Russian planes on February 27, a Volga-Dnepr Antonov An-124 freighter was stranded at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ). 

However, due to the inability to leave before the deadline, the aircraft began accumulating daily parking charges of $1,650, resulting in approximately $683,000 for its extended stay. 

The Canadian authorities later formally seized the aircraft in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As previously mentioned, the transfer of the An-124 and other assets from sanctioned Russian firms is part of the new aid package Canada and Ukraine agreed upon after talks in Toronto last week. 

Volga-Dnepr, a major cargo operator, is on the list of sanctioned Russian firms, and as a result, its aircraft, including the stranded Antonov An-124, will be transferred to Ukraine. 

Although the company initially hoped to resolve the formalities and retrieve its freighter, it is now likely that the aircraft will be used to support the war effort in Ukraine.

Russian airlines, particularly freight carriers, have been severely impacted by the swift and crushing sanctions imposed globally. 

Volga-Dnepr and its subsidiary AirBridgeCargo have shut down operations in Western countries due to canceled leases. 

The company was forced to release 200 pilots last year due to a significantly reduced route network. It was ordered to pay $406 million to BOC Aviation for three Boeing 747-8s that are stuck in Russia.

Antonov An124
Antonov An124

The Russian government has been supporting efforts to acquire aircraft from European lessors for commercial purposes, with an investment amounting to $4 billion.

However, this has not been successful, and court cases involving lessors attempting to recover their aircraft are still pending. Furthermore, it seems improbable that the EU will agree to concessions allowing lessors to sell their aircraft for less than market value.

While most airplanes are typically seized due to legal action by lessors, it is unlikely that many other countries will be able to mirror Canada’s move of transferring captured aircraft to Ukraine. Nonetheless, Canada’s decision establishes an important precedent for future similar situations.