On February 21, Ukraine completed the transfer to Russia of eleven strategic bombers, including eight Tupolev-160s and three Tupolev-95MS armed with cruise missiles. Included in the transfer are 575 cruise missiles, of which 360 were sent last week, with the remainder being sent this week. All the missiles are being transported by rail. Russian crews flew the bombers from the Ukrainian air bases Priluky (the TU-160s) and Uzin (the TU-95MS) to the Russian strategic air force base at Engels in Saratov Oblast, where these bombers will permanently be stationed. They are scheduled to be combat-ready by April.
The transfer operations began last November and took longer than expected. The bombers were flown out of Ukraine either singly or in pairs as Russian technical teams took them out of mothballs and put them in operational condition. The Russian side bought the planes, missiles and associated equipment for US$285 million, a remarkable bargain. The payment arrangement is to deduct that sum from Ukraine’s arrears to Russia for natural gas.
Ukraine inherited nineteen strategic bombers of those two types from the USSR but negotiations for their sale back to Russia dragged out during most of the 1990s. Ukraine had no military use for the bombers and couldn’t afford their high maintenance costs. Russia displayed intermittent interest in acquiring the bombers, provided it could be done on the cheap. Kyiv demanded unrealistically high prices, only to watch the value of the planes decline and doubts about their reliability mount. Moscow’s ultimate decision to acquire the bombers is to be seen in the context of its renewed emphasis on strategic nuclear forces, as reflected in Russia’s revised military doctrine (February 7, 14). The eleven ex-Ukrainian bombers supplement the approximately fifty TU-95MS and six TU-160 which Russia inherited from Soviet Russia’s strategic air force.
Remaining in Ukraine are eight strategic bombers. Two of them–one TU-95MS and one TU-160–are due to be put on display at the Poltava air museum; another two are to be converted for meteorological and ecological missions and to be operated out of the civilian Mykolayiv airport; the last four are to be dismantled until October 2001 with technical assistance from an American company (UNIAN, DINAU, January 13, 29, February 8, 21; Eastern Economist Daily (Kyiv), February 9, 22).
…RUSSIAN TACTICAL PLANES ON THEIR WAY IN.