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Over 500 Airbus, Boeing planes leased to Russia’s airlines may be taken over as Moscow hits back in sanctions war

Increase in frequency of flights between Delhi and Moscow was long overdue (Image courtesy: Twtter/ @jose14tematicas)

Russia's government said on Thursday that it had proposed in draft legislation allowing foreign planes leased by Russian airlines to be registered as the airlines' property.

Western aircraft owners are facing a situation where they could lose hundreds of Airbus and Boeing commercial jets that Russian airlines have effectively kept away from seizure

Foreign leasing firms have succeeded in repossessing only about two dozen of the more than 500 aircraft rented to Russian carriers, said Dean Gerber, general counsel for Valkyrie BTO Aviation. The planes in limbo have a market value of about $10.3 billion, according to a Bloomberg report that cited estimates from aviation analytics firm Ishka.  

Technically, lessors have until March 28 to cancel contracts under European Union sanctions. But state-owned Aeroflot PJSC and other airlines have already flown back most of the planes to Russia where they are out of reach of their owners.  This had followed the ban on Russian flights under western sanctions.   

Both Airbus and Boeing have withdrawn support from Russia's aviation industry after the Ukraine crisis. Boeing has said it was suspending all parts, maintenance and technical support for planes in Russia, while Airbus followed suit on Wednesday.

There has been an exodus of western companies from Russia as the United States, European Union and Britain imposed economic sanctions against Moscow. Several superyachts owned by Russia’s billionaires have been seized as part of the sanctions war.

Russia hit back with a government commission on Wednesday approving the first step towards nationalising assets of foreign firms that leave the country. 

Russia's ruling party, United Russia, said on Wednesday that a government commission had approved the first step towards nationalising assets of foreign firms that leave the country in the wake of economic sanctions over Ukraine.

United Russia added in a statement on the Telegram messaging app that the commission on lawmaking activity had supported a bill allowing for firms more than 25% owned by foreigners from "unfriendly states" to be put into external administration.

"This will prevent bankruptcy and save jobs," it said.

For instance, MacDonald’s owns 850 restaurants and has 62,000 employees across the country. If the company decides to permanently shut down its Russian operations, its properties could be seized and brought under local management.

Western corporate actions against Russia over its military operation in Ukraine vary widely, with some firms like U.S. car giant Ford temporarily shutting down factories but others like British energy major BP and global oil giant Shell saying they are leaving the country. 

Russia also sought on Thursday to retaliate against Western sanctions imposed over its invasion of Ukraine by banning exports of certain goods and agricultural commodities.

Exporting telecom, medical, auto, agricultural, electrical and tech equipment, as well as some forestry products, will be banned until the end of 2022.

"These measures are a logical response to those imposed against Russia and are aimed at ensuring uninterrupted functioning of key sectors of the economy," the economy ministry said.

Further measures could include restricting foreign ships from entering Russian ports and allowing Russian airlines to register jets leased from Western firms as their own property, the government said. 

Also read: Russia’s billionaires move luxury superyachts to remote ports to escape seizure under western sanctions