A Russian cargo plane, allegedly en route to Slovakia, has been detained for several days in Baku, Azerbaijan and could be confiscated by the Azerbaijani government along with its cargo, the Russian RTR broadcasting company reported on March 23.
According to reports by the French news agency, AFP, local Azerbaijani authorities detained a Russian 124-100 Ruslan freight plane with six MiG-21 fighter jets on board. The plane took off from the Kazakh city of Taldy-Kurgan and made a stop in Baku to refuel on March 18.
According to the Associated Press, the crew of the detained plane first said that the final destination of their flight was Yugoslavia. Later, they changed their statement and said they were bound for Pyongyang, North Korea. On Tuesday, however, Russian officials said that the plane was actually heading to Bratislava.
The incident is currently under investigation and Azerbaijani officials said the possibility that Russia was attempting to illegally transfer military technology through Slovakia cannot be ruled out.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the plane's destination was changed to Bratislava at the request of the private Russian carrier Polyot which owns the plane. The reasons for this step, which could have negative consequences for Slovakia if it is shown that the planes were bound to Yugoslavia - where there is an international ban on sale of weapons - through Slovakia, is still not known.
The Russian Embassy to Azerbaijan confirmed that the Czech company Agroplast, which hired the plane, is both the consignor as well as the recipient of the cargo. A representative of the company is being held in Baku along with the 18-member crew of the Ruslan plane.
Altogether, 34 people have been detained, including Russians, two citizens of Kazakhstan, one from the Ukraine, and one from Belarus. Some sources also reported that the MiG-21 pilots were among them.
In addition, $500,000 was allegedly on board the plane.
The Slovak Embassy in Moscow does not have any specific information concerning this incident and is currently investigating all the details, Embassy spokesman Boris Gandel said on March 23. The Slovak Foreign Ministry and the Slovak Defence Ministry also do not have any information, their spokesmen said.r
29. Mar 1999 at 0:00 | TASR News Agency