Turkey’s attempts to retrieve two military cargo planes stuck in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion on February 24 have failed. Turkey, which brought Russian and Ukrainian delegations together for the first time since the start of the war and hosted the signing of a vital grain export deal last month, has not received any concrete promise from either of the parties involved. Military experts contacted by Nordic Monitor are of the opinion that the Turkish government is not being transparent about the stranded planes.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar made a statement last week regarding the aircraft, which have been unable to depart due to the closure of Ukrainian airspace. He stated that the crew to bring the aircraft parked at Kyiv’s Boryspil Airport back to Turkey is on standby in Kyiv.
“Our planes have been fully maintained. We thank Ukraine for this. They also kept our planes as safe as they could at Boryspil Airport,” Akar told the state-run Anadolu news agency.
He also brought up an interesting detail about the stranded planes: If the planes take off, due to the war in Ukraine some rogue groups could attempt a provocation. However, he did not reveal the identity of the groups.
“We are in a position to bring our planes home immediately … It’s possible this could happen in the coming days. This is our hope, and we’re continuing our discussions [on the matter],” he added.
Retired colonel and military pilot Yüksel Akkale, speaking to Nordic Monitor, disagrees with Akar. Akkale reminded that transport planes regularly served Turkish troops in Afghanistan. He claimed that the planes couldn’t take off because Russia wouldn’t allow it and that Akar hid this fact.
“If the planes are ready for flight, if there’s no damage, they will take off one hour after Russia gives permission,” Akkale told Nordic Monitor.
Stating that “this type of heavy transport aircraft cannot be put at risk even if you are at war,” Akkale believes that the Turkish Air Force, led by incompetent commanders, have caused a great scandal.
Stating that the planes are completely open to attack, Akkale underlined that they cannot be taken to protected areas like fighter jets can due to their large size. He also said that whether or not there is an attack on the aircraft depends entirely on Russia.
“The determinant is Russia. I don’t think it’s related to Ukraine. Even if the Russians can’t fully control the entire Ukrainian airspace, planes of this size cannot leave without Russia’s permission. Russia may not give permission in order to humiliate Turkey and to show strength,” Akkale added.
Akkale also said the Turkish government may be trying to hide the planes being damaged.
Military experts Nordic Monitor previously spoke to stated that Russia would prefer that planes remain in Kyiv as a kind of punishment for transporting 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.
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.
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 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, because the airspace was closed and because 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.
Minister Akar during a panel discussion at the Doha Forum on March 27 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 staff and Turkish citizens.
Turkey currently has nine A400M military cargo planes. Although two of them are stranded in Kyiv, the Turkish military flights to the region have continued without interruption.