Once again the global realpolitik and the tensions between The West and Putin’s Russia have seen some strange stories begin to take shape. And Volga-Dnepr is at the centre of them.
Technically a private company the group is in effect at the mercy of whatever the Russian Government decides. And it owes Putin more than a few favours. Last year the Russian Foreign Ministry stepped in, effectively blackmailing KLM into surrendering restricted slots to its Air Bridge Cargo operation at Amsterdam Schipol, or face a ban from Russian air space to the Far East and Japan.
As sanctions and tit-for-tat expulsions ramp up following the use of Russian nerve gas agents in the streets of the UK against one of its former spies, with trouble in Syria, the Russian Government has directed Volga-Dnepr to terminate its heavy lift contract with NATO – for which it uses the AN-124.
The ABC arm of the company is in an awkward position. The AN-124 hasn’t at present, been registered in an EU country. The contract is in conjunction with Ukrainian based Antonov Airlines and forms part of the Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS) for the EU and NATO.
The contract required that Antonov and Volga-Dnepr kept an AN-124 each on permanent call at Leipzig-Halle Airport, which has been going on since 2006. Volga-Dnepr owns 12 of them.
However nothing is quite as straight forward as its seems. Russia might want the facility withdrawn to help impede the NATO/EU heavy lift capacity, but the Volga-Dnepr Group airline ABC suddenly started advertising for new staff – at Leipzig Halle and there is enough evidence to suggest that a senior executive, formerly from an ME3 airline is due to commence working for ABC, in Germany, with the aim of establishing a new cargo company – at Leipzig-Halle.
Antonov cannot really operate the SALIS contract alone, and Germany wants to develop Leipzig-Halle as a major air freight centre for Central Europe – sitting as it does on the other side of Germany, away from Frankfurt.
Lufthansa Cargo, and DHL are going to be less than enamoured, with a large Russian competitor moving in to their back yard, using German registered aircraft, but owned by a Russian conglomerate with close ties to the Kremlin.
The facts align for an AirBridgeCargo Deutchland (or CargoLogicAirGermany?). An AN-124 “fleet’ registered in Germany would get priority over the Ukrainian Antonov Airlines – because of being in an EU and NATO country . Another Russian win over the Ukraine, NATO and Germany.