December 3, 2023

Last August, Oleg Patsulya, a Russian citizen living near Miami, sent an email to a Russian airline cut off from Western technology and materials with an enticing offer. offer.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, he could help circumvent global sanctions imposed on Russian airlines by adapting much-needed aircraft parts and electronics through a network of companies based in Florida, Turkey and Russia.

“In light of the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation, we have successfully addressed the challenges at hand,” Mr. Patsulya wrote, according to the criminal complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Arizona.

Mr. Patsulya and his business associates were arrested Thursday on charges of violating U.S. export controls and international money laundering, in a case that shows how a global network is trying to help Russia circumvent the most extensive technology controls in history.

The United States has worked with nearly 40 other governments to impose sanctions on Russia since Russia invaded Ukraine, including limiting Moscow’s access to weapons, computer chips, aircraft parts and other products it needs to power its economy and wars. The sanctions also apply to Russian airlines, including Aeroflot, its subsidiary Rossiya and others.

But despite these far-reaching sanctions, thousands of shipments of aircraft parts made it to Russia last year, according to a trove of Russian customs data obtained by The New York Times.

The data was collated and analyzed by import geniusThe U.S.-based trade data aggregator shows that tens of millions of dollars in aircraft parts were shipped to Russian airlines apparently sanctioned by the Biden administration, including Aeroflot, Aeroflot, Ural Airlines, S7 Airlines, Utair Airline and Pobeda Airlines.

The shipments are facilitated by illicit networks like Mr Patsulya’s, which have sprung up in an attempt to circumvent the restrictions with a string of straw buyers, often in the Middle East and Asia.

For example, last year, dozens of batches of copper wires, bolts, graphite and other parts marked Boeing made in the United States flowed into the warehouse of Aeroflot. They traveled through humble trading houses, free trade zones and industrial complexes in the United Arab Emirates and China before heading to Russia to help repair Aeroflot’s dilapidated fleet.

The data records shipments of more than 5,000 aircraft parts to Russia over an eight-month period in 2022, ranging from simple screws to $290,000 worth of Honeywell-branded aircraft engine starters.

In all, it showed that $14.4 million worth of U.S.-made aircraft parts were shipped to Russia over an eight-month period, including $8.9 million in parts described as being made or registered by U.S. plane maker Boeing trademark and sold to Russia through third parties.

Boeing said it was in full compliance with U.S. sanctions and had suspended spare parts, repairs and technical support to Russian customers in early 2022. Aviation supply chain experts say the parts could come from a variety of sources, such as existing overseas inventories from airlines and maintenance organizations or dealers dealing in scrapped parts.

Most of the products pass through countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, China and the Maldives, the data showed. But a small number of shipments – including those bound for Rossiya – were sent directly from the US or Europe.

Shipments also rose last year as Russia recruited global businesses to help it bypass sanctions. William George, research director at Import Genius, said the trend showed that “sanction evasion networks, which took time to build in the pressing post-export controls scramble, are now able to help Russian airlines procure some key components.”

The Russian national, who was detained Thursday, began planning last May to ship aircraft parts from the United States to Russia in violation of export regulations, the criminal complaint said.

The men are accused of satisfying requests for parts, including expensive Boeing 737 braking systems, from at least three Russian airlines, two of which were strictly prohibited from buying U.S.-made products through so-called temporary denial orders issued by the Russian government. Ministry of Commerce. On Thursday, FBI agents raided an apartment owned by the man’s company in Trump Tower in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida.

Lawyers for the men did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Despite some degree of sanctions evasion, aircraft traffic to Russia remains far below pre-war levels.U.S. officials said Aeroflot was forced to dismantle the plane, dismantling it for spare parts to keep other planes operating, and turn to iran For maintenance and parts.

Russia’s imports of aircraft and aircraft parts allegedly fell from $3.45 billion per year before the invasion to only about $286 million after the invasion Observatory of Economic Complexitya data visualization platform for exploring global trade dynamics.

Since the invasion, China has been the leading overall exporter of parts for Russian aircraft, spacecraft and drones, accounting for about half of all shipments, followed by India, according to the Washington nonprofit Silverado Policy Accelerator.

According to aviation data provider Cirium, the number of single-aisle aircraft in use in Russia fell by about 16% from summer 2021 to summer 2022 following the invasion. The number of large twin-aisle planes typically used on international routes has fallen by about 40%.

Aviation experts say it will be more challenging for Aeroflot to keep flying the planes without help from Western suppliers, as well as Boeing and Airbus. Manufacturers regularly consult airlines to assess any damage and tightly control access to technical documentation used by mechanics.

But for now, Russian airlines are staying afloat, helped by international freight and the hundreds of foreign jets stranded there after the war began.

Tens of thousands of flights are expected to cross Russia this month, according to flight schedules published by Cirium. More than 21,000 flights – more than half of which are operated by Aeroflot – are expected to carry passengers to and from the Central Asian country as well as Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, China and Thailand.

Many of the shipments in the Import Genius data may have violated sanctions, but planemakers such as Boeing or Airbus are not necessarily at fault, according to six export-control lawyers and former administration officials consulted by The New York Times. Aviation supply chains are complex and global, and parts may come from multiple sources.

“It was clear that there were violations,” said William Reinsch, a trade expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who oversaw export controls during the Clinton administration. “Not so sure about the guilty party.”

Last year, aircraft parts originating in the European Union, including those marked as made or trademarked by Airbus, were also shipped to Russia, the data showed.

Airbus spokesman Justin Dupont said the company tracks original parts and documentation it supplies to its customers and conducts due diligence on all parties requesting spare parts. He said U.S. and European restrictions meant “there was no legal way for genuine aircraft parts, documentation and services to reach Aeroflot.”

Technically, the U.S. restrictions allow companies to apply for special permission to continue shipping products to Aeroflot for “flight safety” reasons, but both Boeing and Airbus said they had neither sought nor received such a request. license. In addition, Airbus said EU law prohibits it from sending such cargo to Russia, with or without a U.S. permit.

Some shipments are expected to go to Russia, current and former U.S. officials said. Kevin Wolf, a partner at the law firm Aking Hills, which oversaw export controls during the Obama administration, said the restrictions “will never stop everything,” but the rules still seriously cripple Russia’s capabilities.

He added that the scope of the new rules still goes beyond the current tracking and enforcement methods of other allies. Before the Ukraine invasion, trade in aircraft parts was mostly unrestricted by the U.S. and other countries except Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Syria.

“Things are improving,” Mr Wolf said, “but are still far behind.”

Compared with other countries that have largely limited their scrutiny to cross-border goods, the U.S. has done unmatched efforts to regulate global trade.

Over the past three years, the U.S. has imposed extraterritorially applicable new technology restrictions on Russia, China and Iran: products made in the U.S., or made in foreign countries with U.S. components or technology, even subject to U.S. rules when they change hands on the other side of the world .

both U.S. and European Union has been increasing penalties for companies violating sanctions, and dispatch officials Countries such as Kazakhstan have tried to persuade them to limit the export of goods to Russia through their territory. The U.S. government has nine export control officials in Istanbul, Beijing and other locations to track shipments of sensitive products and is opening three more offices.

But supplying parts can be a lucrative business. The value of some aircraft parts imported by Russian airlines has quadrupled or more since the invasion, said James Disalvatore, associate director at Kharon, a data and analytics firm that has been monitoring Russian sanctions evasion.

“I don’t think there’s any secrets to what’s going on,” said Gary Stanley, a trade compliance expert who advises companies in aerospace and other industries. “How long have we had sanctions on Cuba? How long have we had sanctions on North Korea? How long have we had sanctions on Iran? It never seems to bankrupt these guys.”

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