Plane loads of cash: Flight records reveal Russia flew 30 tonnes of bank notes to Syrian regime

The logs show that a cargo plane belonging to the Syrian Air Force made eight round trips between Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport and Damascus over three months this summer


According to newly released flight logs, Russia has been helping out embattled Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad by literally sending him planeloads of cash.

The logs, obtained by the investigative journalism body ProPublica, show that an Ilyushin 76 cargo plane belonging to the Syrian Air Force made eight round trips between Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport and Damascus over three months this summer, each time carrying a stated cargo of 30 tonnes of banknotes.

This would suggest that a total of 240 tonnes of currency, equivalent to roughly 240m notes, made its way from Russia to Syria over the summer. Goznak, the Russian state body that prints banknotes, has confirmed that in recent months it has provided currency to the Syrian regime. In an interview with the state-controlled Rossiiskaya Gazeta last week, the head of Goznak confirmed for the first time that Russia is indeed producing currency for Damascus. “The order has already been fulfilled,” said Arkady Trachuk, Goznak’s Director, though he did not specify how many notes were sent to Syria. Around 20 countries order their currency from Russia, including Lebanon, Guatemala and Belarus.

Syria’s currency was previously produced in Austria by a subsidiary of the country’s Central Bank, but after EU sanctions were put in place last autumn, the government had to look elsewhere for its currency. During a visit to Moscow in August, Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil referred to the currency deal with Russia as a “triumph” for the embattled country over Western sanctions.

“There is a practical need for Syrian pounds to stay in circulation so that the government can keep paying the soldiers and the bureaucracy,” says David Butter, a Middle East expert at Chatham House. “If the government is simply printing money in Russia and flying it to Damascus, then the potential for hyperinflation is very strong.”

It is unclear whether all the notes aboard the planes were newly minted Syrian currency, or whether there was also some aid in the form of “hard” currency. As Syria has been engulfed in violence over the past year and a half, the government has struggled to balance the budget and allay fears of massive inflation. Syrian officials have played down rumours that the country is simply printing money that it cannot afford to, but with a black hole in the budget, this seems the most likely explanation for the flights from Russia.

“Tax collection is down and oil revenues are perhaps only 10 per cent of what they were before the conflict started,” says Mr Butter. “Even by official government figures, they are running a huge deficit.” The Syrian pound has slid dramatically this month, amid rumours that the Central Bank is running low on hard currency, causing a rush by Syrians to change their money into dollars and gold, and inflation has hit around 38 per cent.

Flights between Russia and Syria have been subject to scrutiny amid rumours that Moscow might be trying to help its old ally with illicit weapons deliveries. Last month, Turkish jets forced a plane travelling from Russia to Syria to stop at Ankara Airport and searched it, claiming that it contained weapons bound for Mr Assad’s government. Moscow responded furiously, accusing Turkey of putting lives at risk, and insisted that the plane was carrying a legal shipment of radar parts, rather than weapons. Flight logs show that the planes carrying the banknotes flew a circuitous route from Moscow to Damascus, avoiding Turkish airspace and instead transiting over Azerbaijan, Iran and Iraq.

The Russians have consistently said that they support neither Mr Assad nor the opposition, but Moscow has vetoed action against Syria at the UN and has been seen as the regime’s only major friend internationally. Russia has hundreds of millions of pounds worth of arms contracts with Syria, and although it has said it will not sign any new deals with Mr Assad, it has promised to honour what has already been agreed. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev again criticised Western policy in Syria in an interview published yesterday, branding as “unacceptable” the French government’s recognition of the opposition to Mr Assad as the legitimate government of Syria and suggestions that it might sell them arms. “The desire to change a political regime in another state through recognition of some political force as the sole sovereign representative seems to me not entirely civilised,“ said Mr Medvedev ahead of a visit to Paris.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments