Ukrainian defense minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk said yesterday in Kiev that Ukraine is still willing to sell all the Tu-160 "Blackjack" and Tu-95MS "Bear" bombers that it inherited from the Soviet Union. Last March then Russian defense minister Pavel Grachev had agreed to buy 25 of the strategic aircraft–10 of the 19 Tu-160s and 15 of the Tu-95MS missile-carriers — that were in the Ukrainian inventory. In return, Grachev offered to provide Ukraine with a number of military transports and helicopters, as well as with 12 jet fighters. In November the two sides were said to have agreed on another formula: to credit $320-$350 million of Ukraine’s energy debt to Russia.
Kuzmuk yesterday spoke as if both of these offers had lapsed, but suggested that Ukraine nevertheless remained interested in either option. Meanwhile, the planes continue to deteriorate. Kuzmuk said that each was costing Ukraine approximately $1 million per year to maintain. Less than one in three of the aircraft are reported to be fully operational. The Tu-160 was the Soviet Union’s most potent strategic bomber and its answer to the American B-1. Only six were left in Russia after the USSR’s dissolution, and, since the planes are no longer being built, the Russian air force desperately needs most of those now in Ukraine if it is to maintain a viable strategic bomber force. (Interfax-Ukraine, January 16)
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