Plane carrying Russians en route to Resolute detained in Yellowknife
N.W.T. infrastructure minister says group is part of an expedition team
A charter plane carrying two Russian nationals en route to Nunavut was grounded this week at Yellowknife’s airport.
N.W.T. Infrastructure Minister Diane Archie told the legislature about the situation on Wednesday.
“It appears that the plane and its passengers were on their way to Resolute, Nunavut, with the intention of taking a planned Arctic expedition in a large, all-terrain utility vehicle,” she said, expressing some emotion.
“I’m just shaking. When I got the call, I was like, ‘Oh my.’”
Canada closed its airspace to all Russian owned, chartered, or operated aircraft on Feb. 27 in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
In a statement to Nunatsiaq News, Transport Canada confirmed a chartered plane that landed in Yellowknife March 1 was still restricted to the Yellowknife airport as of Thursday evening while the department, along with the Canada Border Services Agency, assess the situation.
“Potential consequences and enforcement actions will be determined based on the facts,” reads the statement.
Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra weighed in on the matter on Twitter Thursday evening, saying, “We will continue to hold Russia accountable for its invasion of Ukraine.”
Transport Canada did not offer any details about the individuals involved in the grounding, but a Russian-led team called TransGlobal Car is carrying out an expedition similar to what Archie described in legislature.
The similarities were first reported by Yellowknife-based media outlet Cabin Radio.
The expedition group aims to complete a “full continuous vertical circumnavigation of the globe, supporting scientific and educational initiatives along the way,” according to a social media post written by Andrew Comrie-Picard, a professional driver involved in the project.
This leg of the journey is an overland drive from the continental shelf to the High Arctic, his post says, and was scheduled to begin March 1.
According to TransGlobal Car’s website, a Russian named Vasily Shakhnovsky is behind the expedition.
He describes himself as a “retiree and traveller.” He is also a former shareholder of now-defunct Yukos Oil, and was once listed by Forbes as one of the world’s richest people.
In 2003, Shakhnovsky, along with a number of other Yukos executives, became targets of what is widely regarded as a politically motivated investigation carried out by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government.
Shakhnovsky was arrested for alleged tax evasion and Yukos Oil was eventually seized and dismantled. The investigation was condemned by several international bodies, including the Hague.
Shakhnovsky now lives in Switzerland, which is where the chartered flight in question originated from on Tuesday, according to Archie, N.W.T.’s infrastructure minister.
Attempts by Nunatsiaq News to reach various members of the TransGlobal Car expedition have gone unanswered.
On March 2, TransGlobal Car team member Boris Pavlov made a Russian-language post from Yellowknife on social media.
“Today, despite all of our emerging problems, our big, international Russian-Icelandic-Ukrainian-Georgian-American team is finally on the way to Yellowknife,” he said, adding the team would be ready to drive north in a few days.
Underneath his post, a Russian-language comment was left wishing the team good luck in light of the plane being detained in Yellowknife, to which Pavlov responded, also in Russian, “Everything will be OK.”