Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 71

The headquarters of Russia’s air defense forces, which doubles as the CIS Joint Air Defense System’s headquarters, also hosted a CIS-wide exercise from April 2 to April 7. Russian Air Force Commander in Chief General Anatoly Kornukov supervised the exercise from that headquarters, which is located at Balashikha in the Moscow Region. Officers of the CIS Joint Air Defense System’s member countries–Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan–participated in the command-and-staff phases of the exercise at Balashikha. The final phase included the nonmember Ukraine and it involved flights by strategic and other types of combat aircraft.

The exercise focused on two directions affecting CIS countries. To the south, it tested the system’s ability to maintain–according to Kornukov–“full control over Turkey’s air space and that of Afghanistan and Pakistan.” The radar at Gabala–last remaining Russian military installation in Azerbaijan–is key to such control. Also in the southern direction, Russia’s air defense is currently exchanging information in an automatic mode with Uzbekistan, which is not a member country of the CIS joint system. In the culminating phase of the exercise, several Russian supersonic bombers based in Irkutsk flew for some twelve hours over Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to test the air defense systems in those countries. They also tested the ability of a Russian communications aircraft to guide flights of Kazakhstani fighters.

To the west, two pairs of Russian strategic bombers simulated an American bombing raid against Belarus. The bombers, based in Central Russia, “broke” through Belarus’ air defenses and “destroyed” targets around Minsk, then landed to festive receptions at the ex-Soviet air bases near Baranavichi and at Machulishchi near Minsk. Whether that scenario was inspired by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s publicly expressed fears of American air attacks, or whether it was designed to feed such fears is far from certain. The Russian bombers spent some twelve hours in Belarus before heading back to Russia.

Concurrently to the west, Russia’s air defense and strategic air force conducted a separate, bilateral exercise with Ukraine, which is not a member of any CIS or joint military organizations with Russia. Ukrainian Air Defense Commander Colonel-General Volodymyr Tkachev supervised the phases in Ukrainian air space of this exercise. It involved flights by two Russian SU-24 (Fencer) fighter-bombers and three Ukrainian SU-27 (Flanker) fighters to test Ukraine’s air defense system to the south and west. Russia’s own air defense system is currently exchanging information in an automatic mode with the Ukrainian on a bilateral basis, outside the CIS system.

Those Ukrainian and Russian planes also practiced aiding a foreign plane in distress and escorting foreign violators outside national air space. According to Ukrainian sources, the Russian and Ukrainian planes carried out those tasks concurrently but separately (Agentstvo Voyennykh Novostey, RIA, Itar-Tass, UNIAN, April 5-6; Rossiiskaya Gazeta, April 6; see the Monitor, March 30, April 6, 2000, Fortnight in Review, April 14, 2000).