Turkey has not yet recovered two military cargo planes that landed in Kyiv a few hours before the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The aircraft, which were unable to depart due to the closure of Ukrainian airspace, have been parked since then at Kyiv’s Boryspil Airport.
Flight number TUAF600, an A400M military transport plane, took off from the Eskişehir Air Forces Command south of Ankara at 01:49 hours on February 24 and landed at Boryspil Airport at 03:47 local time. Flight number TUAF601, also an A400M, took off from Eskişehir at 02:47 and landed in Kyiv at 04:49.
Turkish officials claimed the aircraft were sent to transport humanitarian aid and to evacuate Turkish citizens on their return flights to Turkey. However, unlike Western countries, Turkey did not start evacuations before the invasion, and no official statement had been made regarding humanitarian aid, making it likely that the military transports were carrying Turkish-made drones or missiles used on them.
Turkey currently has nine A400M military cargo planes. Although two of them are stranded in Kyiv, the Turkish military flights to the region continued without interruption. An A400M that took off from Ankara on February 25 landed at Rzeszów Airport, close to Poland’s border with Ukraine. The next day, another A400M made the same trip to Poland.
On the same day a Ukrainian Defense Ministry statement indicating that a new batch of Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2 combat drones had reached the country and were used against Russian forces strengthened the possibility that the transport planes were carrying drones.
Ankara, which did not initially issue an official statement about the aircraft being grounded in Kyiv, had to confirm the situation when it was certain they would not be able to take off. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in a statement on March 5 confirmed that the A400Ms were still in Kyiv, adding that communications with both Russia and Ukraine were continuing.
Turkish media reported that the military transport aircraft could not take off because the runway had been bombed, that the airspace was closed and that there was a flight safety risk. According to information received by Nordic Monitor, there is no shortage of runways for A400Ms, which can take off even from a semi-earth runway. Military experts contacted by Nordic Monitor argue that Turkey, which is trying to act as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, must agree on a date and time with the two countries for its planes to take off.
Turkey evacuated its Kyiv embassy staff to Turkey on March 11; however, Defense Minister Akar during a panel discussion at the Doha Forum on Sunday confirmed that the pilots are still at the embassy.
Akar also made an interesting statement about the stranded planes. He explained that the planes started to take off after unloading their cargo but were stopped on the runway since the airspace was closed, contradicting the claim that the planes were sent for the evacuation of embassy employees and Turkish citizens.
After a phone conversation on Sunday between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish officials announced that Ukrainian and Russian delegations would continue their face-to-face peace talks in Turkey on Monday. However, the Kremlin said it was not possible for the Russian delegation to be in Turkey on Monday and that the negotiations would start on Tuesday at the earliest.
The Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers previously met in Antalya on March 11 for the first time after the Russian invasion, making no progress. Turkish media reported that Turkey had discussed the stranded planes with both sides in Antalya to no avail.
Military experts Nordic Monitor spoke with stated that Russia would prefer the planes to stay in Kyiv as a kind of punishment for carrying military matériel to Ukraine. For Ukraine, it is not an urgent issue in wartime conditions; moreover, if there is an attack on the planes, Russia will have damaged the planes of a NATO country, even though it knew that beforehand.
In addition to the Turkish military cargo planes, four passenger planes belonging to the Hungarian company Wizz Air are stuck in Ukraine.