In another sign of rising tensions between Russia and the West, Russia-based Volga-Dnepr Group is withdrawing from the Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS) agreement, under which Volga-Dnepr and Ukraine’s Antonov Group provide charter service for certain NATO and European Union countries aboard An-124 aircraft.
Under the SALIS charter agreement, Volga-Dnepr and Antonov have provided six An-124 aircraft in total for charter services to certain NATO and partner nations, primarily moving military and humanitarian goods. According to the French publication Challenges, Volga-Dnepr will cease supplying the An-124 aircraft under SALIS by the end of 2018.
While Volga-Dnepr has not issued a statement about its decision to exit SALIS, internal communications from the French military indicate that the move is due to plans the United States government had to impose additional sanctions against Russia, Challenges reports. However, after additional sanctions were announced on April 15 by Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, they were quickly walked back the next day by President Trump and members of his administration.
Volga-Dnepr’s official reason for leaving SALIS is reportedly an internal shift in policy to no longer carry military equipment and to move its focus to transporting civilian, commercial and humanitarian goods. Such a move is in line with the group’s announcement late last year that it would launch a new airline based in Leipzig, Germany, using at least three of its An-124s, which would first be refurbished. Volga-Dnepr Airlines operates 12 of the aircraft in total.