A private jet linked to a Russian oil tycoon has been impounded at Farnborough Airport in Hampshire.
Britain’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ordered authorities to seize the aircraft on Tuesday to enable an investigation into its connection with billionaire oil tycoon Eugene Shvidler. The tycoon is a friend of Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea FC who is in the process of selling the club.
The move came as the government tightened its sanctions on President Vladimir Putin’s regime by making it a criminal offence for any Russian aircraft to enter UK airspace.
Mr Shapps said the latest round of punitive measures, which include private jets linked to oligarchs, would “suffocate Putin’s cronies’ ability to continue living as normal while thousands of innocent people die”.
The new law gives authorities the jurisdiction to impound Russian-owned and Russian-chartered planes. It also gives the government the power to remove aircraft belonging to designated Russian individuals and entities from the UK aircraft register.
A government source said Mr Shvidler was “free to continue his journey by other means” after the plane was impounded.
The Bombardier Global 6500 jet arrived in Farnborough from the US state of New Jersey on Friday and had been due to fly to Dubai on Tuesday afternoon.
Mr Shapps revoked its foreign carrier permit, meaning it could not legally carry passengers, before issuing a restriction of flying order which grounded the plane.
The jet is registered in Luxembourg to a company named Global Jet Luxembourg, but ownership of private planes is often complicated by the involvement of third parties.
It will only be allowed to leave Farnborough if no link with Russia is established, the source added. That is unlikely to happen on Wednesday.
Mr Shapps confirmed that a private jet was impounded at Farnborough.
The Transport Secretary told the BBC that Russian airlines and private jets had already been banned from the UK but the latest law would close gaps allowing people to exploit loopholes in the rules.
“There were potential loopholes and I also wanted to make the issue a criminal one, so last night I also signed a law which closes off some of those loopholes to do with trying to work out the ownership of some of these aircraft," he said.
“There is one such aircraft on the ground at Farnborough that I have essentially impounded while we carry out further investigations. It’s very important that we have the laws available to enable that to happen.”
A government source told the PA news agency the aircraft “was transporting a wealthy Russian and the ownership of the aircraft is now the subject of an investigation”.
“The aircraft will only be allowed to leave Farnborough if the inquiry shows it is not a Russian-owned or controlled jet,” the source said.
In a letter to all UK airports and airfields on Tuesday evening, Mr Shapps laid out the new rules and said air traffic control had the power to tell pilots on Russian planes – private or commercial – not to enter UK airspace, or to leave it by a designated route.
The latest measures add to an earlier airspace ban on Russian commercial airlines and private planes.
“Where we have aircraft which might be connected with Russian oligarchs flying into the country, they should know this sends the clearest signal of all – you can’t do that any more, we can impound your aircraft,” Mr Shapps told Sky News on Wednesday. “[The law] turns this into a criminal offence and I hope sets out the position very, very clearly to them.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has also introduced a ban on the export of aviation and space-related goods and technology to Russia.
Ms Truss will head to Washington on Wednesday where she will meet her US counterpart Antony Blinken to discuss what more can be done to help Ukraine. She will meet members of Congress to discuss UK-US ties and will deliver a speech on Thursday.
Stemming the flow of Putin's oil
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday thanked the UK and the US for their moves to sanction Russian oil. During his historic address to the British Parliament via video link, Mr Zelenskyy welcomed the announcement aimed at hurting Russia financially, which he said sent a “powerful signal” to the world.
Mr Shapps acknowledged that the ban on Russian oil imports could have a knock-on effect on consumers but insisted it was the right decision.
“We need to stem the flow of Putin’s gas and oil blood money from funding his war machine,” he said.
“I think that the British people – even though it will, of course, lead to some higher energy prices, although we’ve probably already seen that as they’re happening already – are not prepared to see us funding Putin’s horrific war.
“And so I think it’s very, very important that we take this step, we will step up our own production.
“And we’re fortunate in the UK that we don’t buy, proportionately, very much Russian oil and gas and we do also produce our own, so we’ll step that up as well.”
On Wednesday, the 14th day of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Britain's Ministry of Defence said its latest intelligence suggested Ukrainian cities continued to come under heavy shelling but Mr Putin’s assault on the capital Kyiv had failed to make tangible progress.
“Fighting north-west of Kyiv remains ongoing with Russian forces failing to make any significant breakthrough,” the ministry said.
“The cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remain encircled by Russian forces and continue to suffer heavy Russian shelling.
“Ukrainian air defences appear to have enjoyed considerable success against Russia’s modern combat aircraft, probably preventing them achieving any degree of control of the air.”