Russian Embassy in UK files official explanation demand after Aeroflot plane search
The Russian diplomatic office wants an explanation for the incident with a Russian Aeroflot plane that was searched by British authorities on Friday. During the search, the authorities demanded that the crew leave the aircraft, which is against regulations. So far, London has not provided an explanation for the move.
“The British officials tried to search the aircraft without the crew being present, something categorically prohibited by the rules in force,” the embassy said in a statement. It took an intervention from the diplomats for the captain to be able to stay on board.
“After an Embassy officer arrived at the airport long negotiations were conducted that allowed to ensure the right of the captain to take part in the search,” the statement reads.
Attempts by Russian diplomats to elicit a response from British authorities concerning the cause for the search have proven unsuccessful, the embassy said, noting that it has been unable to reach the Foreign Office for comment so far.
Lacking any feedback from UK officials, the embassy has, by default, concluded that the incident was “in one way or another connected with the hostile policy that the UK government is conducting with regard to Russia."
The searches came amid a flare-up in tensions between Moscow and London over the Skripal case. Days after the Salisbury incident, in which former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with what the UK claims was a Soviet-manufactured nerve agent, British authorities pointed a finger at Russia. Without producing evidence of Russia’s culpability, the UK unveiled a barrage of punitive measures against Moscow, including ordering the expulsion of 23 diplomats. Moscow has responded with tit-for-tat measures.
Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the search of the Aeroflot jet as “unacceptable, dangerous and irresponsible” and “another provocation” by London.
The only reaction from British authorities to the bizarre raid on the Russian plane came from Scotland Yard in a tweet. London’s Metropolitan Police said it was “aware of a story circulating on social media,” but claimed it had not conducted any searches "of an Airbus inbound from Moscow to Heathrow."
The plane’s pilot revealed the searches were conducted by the British border force, which came on board with a sniffer dog. The group of inspectors said they were looking for items that are illegal to transport by air, without providing any specifics, Vitaly Mitrofanov told Russian media. According to Mitrofanov, the officials did not present any papers or an explanation for their actions. While he initially allowed them to carry on with the searches, he rescinded the permission as soon as they insisted that he leave the plane.
The whole procedure took from five to seven minutes, the pilot said, adding that it was hard for him to oversee everything the inspectors were doing inside the aircraft since there were five or six of them, and he was the only one allowed to stay on board.