The commander of the Yemeni Air Force has clarified reports that Ansar Allah – the Zaidi Shia group, known as the Houthis – has taken control of a shipment of three Sukhoi jets.
Various Arabic media organisations reported on 17 February that the aircraft had arrived from either Russia or Ukraine at the port of Al-Hudaydah, which has been under Ansar Allah’s control since September 2014.
The Russian embassy in Sanaa denied any connection to the weapons shipment.
The ship in question was identified by some sources as Shamin (IMO: 9114347): a general cargo ship that left the Ukrainian port of Illichevsk on 27 January and arrived in Al-Hudaydah on 16 February having visited Thessaloniki, Memrut, Alexandria and Jiddah on the way.
Ukraine’s submissions to the UN Register of Conventional Arms shows that it sold Su-22, MiG-21 and L-39 aircraft to Yemen in the 2005-2007 period.
Ansar Allah is then alleged to have moved the aircraft either to its stronghold in the northern province of Saadah or to the airbase next to Sanaa International Airport.
The commander of the Yemeni Air Force, Major General Rashid Nasser al-Janad, told Yemen’s 26 September newspaper on 18 February that the Sukhois were purchased from Belarus under a deal signed in November 2009 and remained at Al-Hudaydah pending the completion of the legal process. He added that an earlier consignment had already been delivered.
Maj Gen Janad did not identify the type of aircraft that had been delivered from Belarus, which has a range of surplus Sukhois that it could potentially sell, including Su-24s that were retired in 2013.