During the early morning hours of Saturday morning on the East Coast of the US, many awoke to surprising news: a Russian government jet had departed St. Petersburg and was on its way to Washington.
The chatter on social media was intense, and some initially wondered: might Russian President Vladimir Putin be on his way for a special round of negotiations with President Biden?
Why is Putin’s plane going to Washington DC? pic.twitter.com/nMK6D1oXh4— Rob Adams (@RobCSAdams) March 5, 2022
Unfortunately, these initial suspicions have proved incorrect, and actually almost couldn't have been further from the reality. To wit, the State Department has issued a statement confirming that the plane is going to pick up Russian diplomats who have been expelled from the UN over the country's invasion of Ukraine. The State Department described the employees being picked up as "Russian intelligence agents". The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed in a statement posted to Telegram that the plane was going to fetch Russian diplomats.
The flight is expected to land at Dulles International some time in the afternoon.
- US STATE DEPARTMENT: WE HAVE APPROVED A FLIGHT FOR A RUSSIAN PLANE TO EVACUATE RUSSIAN EMPLOYEES EXPELLED FROM THE UNITED NATIONS
As of As of 1030ET on Saturday, the Ilyushin Il-96-300 (registered to Russia State Transport Company/Russia Special Flight Squadron as RA-96019) was flying westbound with a destination of New York City. According to the flight map, it was most recently flying near Greenland.
Russia on Tuesday branded the expulsion of these 12 diplomats who were part of its mission to the UN in New York as an "escalation." Keep in mind, even Iranian and North Korean diplomats have been allowed to travel back and forth to the UN unscathed.
Databases show that this jet isn't commonly used by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. Instead, the database suggests two planes: either 157715 or 157716. However, the the Ilyushin Il-96-300 that's currently in flight does often take direction from the Kremlin.
The flight initially piqued observers' interest in the west because of the flurry of sanctions that the US and EU have applied to Russian billionaires, politicians and other perceived allies of President Putin. Presently, Ukraine is calling for NATO to impose a "no fly" zone in Ukraine, something NATO has been hesitant to order because, As Gen. Jens Stoltenberg made clear, enforcing it would probably draw NATO into World War III.