U.S. secretary of defense William Cohen announced yesterday that the U.S. had recently bought 21 Russian-built MiG-29 jet fighters from Moldova so that they would not otherwise fall into the wrong hands. The planes had been shipped to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio over the past several weeks. Cohen indicated that Iran had made inquiries to Moldovan officials about the planes. At least 14 of the aircraft were advanced models with the necessary wiring and electronic equipment to be able to launch missiles with nuclear warheads. The deal was financed through the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program commonly known as Nunn-Lugar. Cohen thanked Moldova’s president, Petru Lucinschi, and Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat for taking a "visionary approach in this effort." He would not say how much the U.S. had paid for the jets but said that the price was "quite reasonable." (DoD News Briefing, UPI, October 4)
Moldova inherited some 30 MiG-29s from an air regiment of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet in 1992. Over the years the Moldovans have tried to peddle of them in exchange for more suitable weapons such as helicopters. In 1992 they transferred one to Romania and in 1994 sold from four to seven to South Yemen. In late August Lucinschi reiterated that Moldova would have to sell the remaining MiGs — which were the only combat aircraft in its inventory. (Basapress, August 25)
While Cohen stressed that the purpose of the deal was to take these planes off the market, they will also provide useful intelligence information. Ultimately at least some of them are likely to end up with the "aggressor" squadrons that both the navy and air force use to train their fighter pilots.
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