Airlines told to roll out the red carpet for Russian soldiers

The Bell

Only a few weeks have passed since Russian President Vladimir Putin said those fighting in Ukraine were his country’s “new elite”, but already the privileges and special status being afforded to Russian soldiers who have served in Ukraine are racking up. Russia’s aviation agency last week advised airlines to give “participants in the special military operation” priority when checking in, passing through security and boarding flights. It also warned of consequences for anybody who showed an “inappropriate attitude” towards them — an apparent reference to asking airlines to be more lenient with soldiers that break the rules or disrupt other passengers. Speedy boarding is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits being rolled out for veterans of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but it is emblematic of their new status in the country.

  • Kommersant has reported on a leaked letter from the Rosaviatsia air transport regulator advising airlines how they should treat “participants in the Special Military Operation,” as Russian soldiers who fought Ukraine are officially known. Airlines were urged to grant them priority check-in and fast lines through airport security, while staff should be instructed to avoid “instances of inappropriate communication with military personnel.” Veterans should also be able to rebook tickets if they have a legitimate reason for missing a flight and those with mobility issues should be allocated the most comfortable seats.
  • The timing of this advice is no coincidence. Since the turn of the year, there have been about a dozen high-profile scandals and clashes involving soldiers in airports and on planes. In one notorious incident in February, passengers on a flight from Moscow to Yakutsk persuaded police not to arrest a rowdy soldier. In another case, a veteran was kicked off a Pobeda flight for smoking, prompting the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastyrkin, to open a criminal case against the airline.
  • Aviation officials are simply trying to protect themselves ahead of inevitable further confrontations, a senior manager at one of Russia’s leading airlines told The Bell. However, the instructions look like official advice to turn a blind eye to bad behavior from servicemen. Other businesses are wondering whether Rosaviatsia’s recommendations might become a template for regulators in other sectors. There are more and more reports of conflicts (especially in bars) involving soldiers just back from the front. And the patriotic segment of society is becoming increasingly vocal in its reaction to them. One coffee shop owner, for instance, was charged with discrediting the armed forces and has been placed under an extremism investigation after she asked a misbehaving soldier to leave the premises. 
  • Russian veterans of the Ukraine offensive already enjoy a wide range of official benefits. Contract soldiers are exempt from prosecution for various crimes. Without exception, all participants of the war are entitled to free legal aid and bailiffs cannot seize their assets. They have recently been exempted from paying interest on consumer loans. In higher education, 10% of course places are offered for free to military personnel and their families, and there are scholarships for students who have served at the front.

Why the world should care

Official benefits and legal exemptions for “participants in the special military operation” merely underline their special status in Russian society. Their elevation to this level — increasingly being placed above the rules and offered leniency where others would be punished — is not just about being recognised in Putin’s speeches. And it isn’t just about a few fringe perks. War veterans are also the biggest material winners from the great redistribution of wealth in Russia that began with the war.


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