Poland Issued no Airspace Restrictions for the Russian Humanitarian Aid Flights Headed to Italy. Coronavirus Employed by Kremlin as Means of Propaganda [COMMENTARY]

Russian humanitarian aid being loaded onto the Il-76 airlifters. Image Credit: mil.ru
Russian humanitarian aid being loaded onto the Il-76 airlifters. Image Credit: mil.ru

The Russian media have published claims suggesting that Poland did not grant permissions for the Russian aircraft carrying coronavirus humanitarian aid to Rome to enter the Polish airspace. Reportedly, for those reasons, the Russian planes need to use a longer route of 2,400 kilometers, passing over the Black Sea, Turkey, Greece, and Albania. The Polish MoD issued a brief and clear response to the aforesaid claims: The Russian side has not been submitting any request to enter the Polish airspace.

Moscow has created intense publicity around the flights of the Russian aircraft carrying humanitarian aid and medical personnel to Italy. The Italians, for some time now, have been losing their battle with coronavirus. Tonnes of equipment and medical personnel have been transported by aircraft on 22nd and 23rd March. This has been done based on a memorandum resulting from a phone call between Vladimir Putin (President of Russia) and Giuseppe Conte (Italian PM). Relevant intergovernmental memoranda pertaining to that matter have also been signed on the governmental level, between the heads of the Ministries of Defence: Sergei Shoygu and Lorenzo Guerini.

Five Il-76MD airlifters flew from the Chkalovsky base, 31 kilometers from Moscow, to the Italian Pratica di Mare airbase near Rome, hailing from the so-called 224th Air Detachment. The airlifters covered a route of 2,400 kilometers, flying near Voronezh, Rostov on Don, to cross the Black Sea, enter the Turkish airspace, passing Istanbul, Thessaloníki in Greece and flying over Albania.  As shown by Flightradar24.com, after crossing the Adriatic Sea the aircraft entered the Italian airspace and then headed to Rome.

Route of the Russian humanitarian aid airlift operation - Moscow-Rome. Image Credit: www.Flightradar24.com

The whole operation has gained a lot of publicity in the Russian media, as an example of solidarity with the suffering Italians. However, it was on 23rd March when unexpected accusations were made against Poland. Supposedly, Warsaw was to make it impossible for the Russians to use a much shorter route, via Belarus, Poland and then south, to Italy. For reasons that are quite obvious, the Russian aircraft avoid the Ukrainian airspace.

“The Russian aircraft carrying aid to Italy cannot use the Polish Airspace”, Sputnik reported, similarly to other media and many voices across the Internet, quoting Alexei Pushkov, one of the Russian politicians. He chairs the Committee on Informational Policy of the Council of the Russian Federation. He is also the host and author of the analytical “Postcriptovym” analytical TV program broadcast by the state-owned TV “Tsentr”. It was on 23rd March 2020 when he posted the following via his social media channels:

“Poland did not let the Russian aircraft carrying aid to Italy pass through its airspace. This is mean, at the public policy level. Especially in the light of the fact that the aid was sent to an ally of Poland, in NATO and EU. From now on, Russia shall not be meeting Poland half-way. In any domain!”


Pushkov's tweet was deleted after the present article was published. Image: Twitter

Based on the release above, and based on the route of the Russian jets, an intense propaganda campaign has been launched. The campaign accuses Poland of making the delivery of aid more difficult. It also portrays Warsaw to be permanently Russophobic and to work for Donald Trump. More accusations follow. The activities in question had been provoked by journalists of Russia Today and Sputnik, quoting Pushkov, which had preceded the official releases. No source was mentioned, even though they were claiming to have sent questions on that matter to the Polish authorities.

Defence24.pl asked some questions to the Polish MoD and the General Command of the Armed Forces, investigating the matter. According to Polish law, these bodies are authorized to grant a permit for military aircraft to fly in the Polish airspace. We have received a response within 1 hour. 

The Russian side has not been submitting any request to enter the Polish airspace. The flight route was planned via Russia, Turkey, Greece, Albania, and Italy.

Press Department, Polish Ministry of Defence

This brief release should be enough to rectify the issue - but we suspect that the matter will still be a subject that is going to be used in the fake narrative. This may be seen as one of the numerous attempts made to create a conflict between the EU and NATO member states that are facing the pandemic and that are experiencing a crisis that also entails a heavy emotional load.

PANSA (Polish Air Navigation Services Agency) also referred to the broadly defined situation in the Polish airspace. The agency is responsible for managing the aircraft traffic in the Polish airspace. 

It is not true that the Polish airspace has been closed for the aircraft of Russian origin. The airspace over Poland is open, efficiently managed and safe. The aircraft traffic over Poland has been unrestricted.

Paweł Łukaszewicz, PANSA Spokesman

Despite the extraordinary circumstances caused by the epidemic and despite the airliners' traffic limitations, all of the other traffic continues without any interruptions. The situation also had no impact on HEMS, General Aviation or operations undertaken by uniformed and rescue services. Russian aircraft fly over Poland daily - an example can be seen in today’s Aeroflot’s flight from Moscow to Rome, with its route having been planned across Poland.