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Finland blocks dozens of private Russian flights from using Finnish airspace

The EU imposed a series of sanctions on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine in February, including a ban on all Russian carriers from accessing EU airports and airspace.

A private plane photographed at Helsinki Airport in October 2021. An investigation by Yle's MOT unit found that the aircraft has been used by Russian oligarchs. Image: Harri Koskinen

The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom has in recent months blocked around thirty business or private flights carrying Russian oligarchs or others subject to EU sanctions, according to the results of a probe by Yle's MOT investigative journalism unit.

The EU imposed (siirryt toiseen palveluun) a series of sanctions on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine in February, including a ban on all Russian carriers from accessing EU airports and airspace.

In line with the EU's directive, Traficom has refused permission to use Finnish airspace or land in Finland because the flights had a Russian operator or owner, or the flight was ordered by a Russian passenger who may have been on a sanctions list.

Traficom Director Jari Pöntinen confirmed to Yle that in such cases, flying within the EU is prohibited for Russian-linked aircraft.

Some of the blocked flights that sought to use Finnish airspace may have originated from other parts of Europe. In normal circumstances, flights within the EU do not require a separate authorisation from Traficom.

However, due to the sanctions imposed on Russia because of the invasion of Ukraine, virtually all private flights and non-EU carriers must send an application for permission or a prior enquiry about a flight in advance. On the basis of this application or enquiry, Traficom either authorises or denies the flight access to Finnish airspace.

If the applicant does not accept Traficom's decision, the matter is referred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the ministry is ultimately responsible for the monitoring of EU sanctions.

So far, all of Traficom's decisions to block flights have been accepted by the applicants, and the ministry has therefore not had to deal with any flight-related cases.

"If we don't receive a permit application, we can get information from air traffic control or Finavia that a Russian entity is planning a flight. Then we will do our best to find out the background to that flight," Pöntinen explained.

Ownership of aircraft difficult to discover

Traficom did not provide Yle's MOT investigative journalism unit with any further details on the flights that were blocked.

The owners of private aircrafts used by Russians are often hidden through complex tax havens, and the authorities do not always have the possibility to trace them.

Pöntinen declined to comment on why Russian operators or passengers may have chosen to travel through Finnish airspace. However, according to MOT's investigation, wealthy Russians have been using aircraft registered in Finland for decades.

For example, the Russian-Finnish oligarch Gennady Timchenko, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, previously owned the Finnish airline Airfix Aviation, which had a fleet of fifteen business jets.

Finland is a popular transit country for Russians travelling to the rest of the Schengen area, but the Finnish Foreign Ministry monitors the extent to which Russians use Finland as a transit country.

Finland's government has announced plans to review its policy on granting tourist visas to Russian nationals.