“We have a solution.” Banned components from Boeing and Airbus were delivered to Russian airlines
Last Thursday, FBI agents broke into an apartment on the 41st floor of an elite apartment complex in Miami. The apartment, bought 10 years ago for $1.65 million, is owned by MIC-USA LLC, owned by two Russian businessmen, Oleg Patsulya and Agunda Makeeva. (It’s funny that it’s in one of the three towers of the Trump Towers complex: Even before his presidency, Donald Trump gave developers permission to use his name to better sell apartments – and this really attracted buyers from Russia and Latin America, notes The Miami Herald who reported the arrest.)
On Friday, the detainees were charged in an Arizona District Court with violating US sanctions against Russian airlines that the US imposed after Russia invaded Ukraine.
In May, the Russians began building a spare parts supply scheme, The New York Times (NYT) writes, citing court documents. In August, Patsulya sent an e-mail to Rossiya Airlines (part of the Aeroflot group) in which he wrote:
In the light of the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation, we have an effective solution to the problems that have arisen.
As a result, the defendants began fulfilling orders for the supply of spare parts, including an expensive brake system for the Boeing 737, for three Russian airlines, according to court documents. Two of them were strictly prohibited from selling U.S.-made components under Department of Commerce regulations.
Patsulya and Makeyeva became just part of an international network of secret suppliers who began to supply spare parts to the rogue Russian aviation. In the last eight months of 2022, banned aircraft parts worth $14.4 million were shipped from the United States to Russia, including $8.9 million worth of Boeing-manufactured parts, NYT writes, citing Russian customs records.
Most shipments of copper wires, graphite, locks, Honeywell’s $290,000 motor starter and even simple screws passed through free trade zones, industrial parks, unknown companies in the UAE, Turkey, China and the Maldives. In total, more than 5,000 shipments were shipped from the US, NYT analysis showed, based on customs information provided by trade data aggregator Import Genius.
The recipients were airlines sanctioned by the US, including Aeroflot, Rossiya, Pobeda, Ural Airlines, S7 Airlines and Utair.
Shipments increased over time as Russia created new parallel import routes. It took some time, but now the channels “help her get some key ingredients,” says William George, research director at Import Genius.
Suppliers weren’t always looking for loopholes – in some cases, parts were shipped directly from the US to Russia, the NYT notes. In addition, Russian carriers received parts from the European Union, including those produced at Airbus factories.
Boeing and Airbus ensure that they do not deliver anything to Russia and, as far as possible, they track original spare parts and documentation, and check their contractors. Airbus said in April it would remove any maintenance and service company from its customer list if it supplied parts to Russian carriers.
Not all spare parts imported into Russia are new, notes the Proekt publication, which also analyzed Import Genius data (March-August 2022). They are often removed from foreign aircraft that become donors. Before the war, this practice was not common, as parts could be ordered from the manufacturer. Now Russia has officially allowed the use of spare parts repaired in China, Iran, UAE, India, Uzbekistan, Egypt, South Africa and other countries.
“Project” also revealed shipments of European and American components via Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan; Previously, these countries did not appear among the partners of Russian airlines.
“You can never shut everything down,” Kevin Wolfe, a partner at law firm Akin Gump who was responsible for enforcing export controls in the Obama administration, told the NYT. However, he stresses that the new sanctions have severely limited Russia’s ability to source aircraft components.
According to The Observatory of Economic Complexity, which analyzes the dynamics of international trade, Russian imports of aircraft and parts have fallen from $3.45 billion in 2021 to $286 million since the war began.