Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 26

On September 7, Russian Defense Minister Ivanov signed Order No. 59 regarding the crash of a large Mi-26 military helicopter at Khankala Military Base, located outside the Chechen capital city of Grozny, on August 19, after it had been hit by a Chechen separatist hand-held missile, an incident that claimed 121 lives. Nineteen military personnel were disciplined for negligence, “of them, twelve generals.” Among the generals were the chief commander of Russian Ground Forces, Colonel General Nikolai Kormil’tsev, a Russian deputy defense minister, and the commander of the North Caucasus Military District, Colonel General Gennady Troshev, a well-known military “hawk” (Strana.ru, September 10). The commander of army aviation of the ground forces, General Vitaly Pavlov, “submitted his resignation, which the [defense] minister accepted and signed on the spot” (Izvestia, September 8).

The September 9 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta carried an interview with General Pavlov, who rejected all responsibility for the incident: “I fear no one,” he declared. “The crash of the Mi-26 took place not through the fault of the crew and not through the fault of the commander of army aviation. The helicopter was shot down by rebels using a hand-held missile of the Strela or Igla type. That has already been proved.” On August 20, he recalled with obvious bitterness, “[Defense Minister] Sergei Ivanov passed on the words of our president that the destruction of the Mi-26 represented a ‘second Kursk’…. A minute later Ivanov summoned me and said: ‘I have to tell the press that I am removing you from your post.'” Pavlov had harsh words for the way in which the Russian military helicopter fleet has been allowed to deteriorate: “Over the past seven years, we have not received a single new helicopter. The average age of our Mi-8s is fifteen to twenty years. For the Mi-24s, it is twenty years and older. The Mi-26s are relatively new, but, on average, 70 percent of our fleet of helicopters stands in need of repairs. And one-third of our fleet cannot fly, because they need spare parts and so on.”