Volga Dnepr communications specialist Elena Boykova, told the Star in an email that the company “will not be commenting on this issue.”
But, counsellor Vladimir Proskuryakov, of the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, told the Star that the Ruslans have been flying without issue—or concern — for 20 years. Questions about their safety or airworthiness, he said, are “not up to Ukraine to decide.”
Volga Dnepr has made arrangements for the jet to be properly maintained, he said, and the plane should not have any safety issues. When asked if the jet would be used in its war against Ukraine, if returned to Russia, Proskuryakov said “it’s not possible.”
“The plane is absolutely commercial,” he said, “and it is built and used for civil purposes only. It does not transport any military troops or equipment.”
Since late February, he said, the Russian embassy has been assisting Volga Dnepr in its bid to get the plane back. The decision to ground it, he said, does not only make it unavailable to deliver humanitarian aid around the world but it is also “an injustice” and “illegal.”
The jet flew to Canada to deliver COVID-19 supplies on a contract for the federal government, he said, and Canada has no business keeping it.
“We do not understand the legality of these actions,” he said. “We consider them totally abnormal and illegal.”
In an email to the Star, Public Services and Procurement Canada said it hired a logistics company to bring pandemic supplies into the country and that company subcontracted the Feb. 27 shipment to Volga Dnepr.
The jet left China on Feb. 25 carrying three million federally purchased rapid antigen tests, the PSPC email said and arrived in Toronto on Feb. 27. Since then, the email said, the company with the federal contract has “stopped securing flights from Russian airlines.”
Transport Canada said, in an email to the Star, that it has no plans to open Canada’s skies to Russian aircraft anytime soon.
While it can’t speak to the airworthiness of the jet, wrote Sau Sau Liu, Transport Canada Senior Communications Advisor, in an email, “in general, aircraft which have not flown for an extended period of time typically require more substantial maintenance inspections and procedures to be carried out prior to resuming flight operations.”