RA-96023 lands at Dulles on December 20 (dullesspotter on YouTube)

Early on Wednesday, December 20, a Russian plane with the callsign RA-96023 touched down at Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. The plane, which serves as one of the Kremlin’s private aircraft, remained in D.C. for over 54 hours before beginning its trek back to Russia, leaving several unanswered questions in its wake.

Despite a change in political and media sentiments toward the grim realities now facing Ukraine, neither the United States government nor any media outlets across the spectrum commented on the Kremlin’s unannounced presence in D.C., demonstrating bias by omission.

One journalist, Kit Klarenberg, who writes for The Grayzone, raised the matter to the public periphery via X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, on December 23. Despite being viewed over 600,000 times as of December 28, the post has yet to spark media coverage or notable dialogue.

For Context, AllSides has not evaluated The Grayzone for media bias, but the outlet has demonstrated a bias critical of NATO in many of its previous offerings. According to The Hill (Center bias), Klarenberg, who is British, but based in Belgrade, Serbia, was detained earlier this year by UK counter-terror police at London Luton Airport, and questioned for five hours about his views on the conflict in Ukraine and his opinion of British politics.

The Flight

The flight originated from Vnukovo Airport in Moscow, where it returned on December 23. On both ends of the flight, there was a layover. Leaving Russia, RA-96023 made an 89-minute stop at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport. Returning to Russia, it flew from Dulles to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, where it remained for nearly three-and-a-half hours before heading back to Moscow.

FlightRadar24, FlightAware, and several other flight-tracking websites reported the craft’s full journey as follows:


Not Putin’s Plane

According to Wikipedia, RA-96023 is part of the fleet used by the Russian government to transfer the President of Russia, but it appears it would not be the one that President Putin himself would fly in. 

The plane’s counterparts, RA-96012, RA-96016, RA-96020, RA-96021, and RA-96022 are designated differently with PU attached to their callsign. This marking distinguishes them as “control point” aircraft, meaning they would carry the president. Wikipedia also notes that RA-96023 is different in how its interior is set up as a “salon”, a terminology used to describe a certain type of cabin setting in Soviet and Russian aircraft.

According to the national Hungarian newspaper, Magyar Nemzet, which did report on the plane’s trip to D.C., RA-96023 is usually used by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when he travels abroad. The publication also noted, however, that Lavrov was visiting Marrakesh, Morocco during this time, at the Russian-Arab summit. Lavrov appears to have made this trip via another jet, the RA-96017.

Other Russian Visits in 2023

Earlier this year on September 19, the RA-96023 jet made a trip to the U.S. with Lavrov aboard, when he attended the UN General Assembly in New York City. Lavrov’s attendance at the UN was covered by several mainstream media outlets like CNN (Lean Left bias), Reuters (Center bias), and Fox News (Right bias). The plane reportedly flew to Dulles three hours after it landed at JFK in New York, though the reason for this was not disclosed.

Before that, on June 27, another Russian government jet, RA-96018, touched down in Washington D.C. to rotate diplomats. This event was not covered by mainstream American media across the spectrum, but several prominent outlets including the Russian state news agency TASS and British newspaper The i did cover the plane’s journey to D.C.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova and the U.S. State Department both confirmed the purpose of the plane’s journey was to retrieve Russian diplomats whose assignments had ended. The State Department’s confirmation was made to The i, which allegedly also spoke to a retired US intelligence officer, and a serving UK intelligence officer, who both said they believed the plane could have included other Russian officials traveling to D.C. for diplomatic talks.

In April, Lavrov visited New York to lead UN Security Council meetings on April 24 and 25, a journey which he appears to have taken on RA-96023. The U.S. initially signaled that it would not grant Lavrov a visa to host the meetings, yet did end up doing so. The story was covered by several mainstream media outlets across the spectrum

(Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images via CNN)


Without official confirmation from the U.S. government or the Kremlin, one can only speculate over the underlying purpose of RA-96023’s pre-Christmas visit to D.C. The June visit from RA-96018 suggests diplomatic talks or personnel changes could have been a reason. However, as the only other visits RA-96023 made to the states this year included Foreign Minister Lavrov, and he was in Morocco at this time, who exactly was on board remains unclear.

With the conflict in Ukraine falling out of the public eye, and sentiments towards continued support for Ukraine shifting, one could logically assume that an unannounced and unexplained visit by such a notable Kremlin aircraft to D.C. just days before the Christmas holiday would be a story of note across the spectrum, yet the American media and federal government have remained silent.

Andy Gorel is a News Editor and Bias Analyst at AllSides. He has a Center bias.

This blog was reviewed by Joseph Ratliff, AllSides Content Designer (Lean Left bias), and Malayna Bizier, Content Intern (Right Bias).