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“Nothing sensational”: At least 12 military planes have crashed in Russia since start of war in Ukraine, West looks to sanctions as reason

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Another military plane has crashed in Russia – this time in Primorsky Krai. A MiG-31 fighter jet crashed immediately after taking off, falling in a forest near the village of Alekseevka, according to a statement from Russia’s Defense Ministry.

The military claim that the aircraft was performing a training flight in an uninhabited area without ammunition, and the pilots managed to eject. There was no damage on the ground, and the ministry claimed a «technical malfunction” as the cause of the accident.

Over the fall, military aircraft crashes became more frequent in Russia – this is already the seventh such incident in three months. There have been a total of 12 since the beginning of the war. According to the Ministry of Defense, almost all the crashes occurred during training flights. Civilian casualties have also occurred, most notably the crash of a Su-34 bomber in Yeisk in the Krasnodar region, which crashed near a nine-story building, killing 15 people.

Western experts, such as RAND Corporation analyst Michael Bohnert, have begun to speculate that such a number of crashes in a short period of time may indicate some fundamental cause, such as Western sanctions. Russia has lost several types of aircraft, including those that were not widely used in the war (MiG-31, Su-30), Bohnert writes, and one might assume that this was due to a lack of highly skilled personnel. But crashes becаme more frequent before the start of the mobilization, and even after it was announced air crews were not sent to the front en masse, and the damage from crashes was insignificant (except for the incident in Yeisk). According to Bohnert, the most probable version is the one that cites the lack of resources, materials and tools necessary for quality repair and maintenance of aircraft – that, he says, is what speaks for the effectiveness of the sanctions.

However, retired aviation colonel Viktor Alksnis, in a conversation with The Insider, said that the sanctions have nothing to do with these accidents, as 99% of Russian military aircraft do not contain “a single imported part, a single rivet, nor a single imported electronic component.” According to Alksnis, al the cases are versions of “flying accidents,” which occur just like traffic accidents:

“It's all Soviet design. Only the latest planes, for example the Su-35, could have imported components. But on the whole, it is Soviet-made aircraft that are falling. So I don’t see anything sensational in the crashes, as in aviation there have always been flight accidents (an accident designates no loss of life, in contrast to a crash). All sorts of accidents are possible, there are a lot of reasons, for example, the human factor: piloting error, or an error from the technical staff (forgot to refuel or refueled the aircraft with sub-standard fuel). This is machinery – any machine can fail, any person can make a mistake. So I don't think it’s necessary to stir up any passions.”

Crash incidents

On the morning of September 11, Baza reported on the crash of a Su-34 fighter jet in Crimea. The crash happened on the border of Rozdolne and Krasnoperekopsk districts, the pilots managed to eject. The causes of the crash were not named.

On October 1, Baza reported on another incident at the Belbek airfield in Crimea. An unnamed military plane rolled out of the runway during landing, rolled down a mountain and caught fire. According to these reports, a munition detonated on board and there was an explosion. The pilot ejected.

On October 9, two planes crashed at once in the Rostov region: near the farms Sibirki and Rogalik. In the first case, the Su-24 made a hard landing in a field – the aircraft started falling after a training flight, but the crew managed to eject. In the second case, a Su-25 attack aircraft crashed, killing the pilot. Local newspapers reported on the incident as a military flight.

October 17 marked the tragedy in Yeisk – a training Su-34 flight crashed into a residential building, while the pilot managed to eject. Retired aviation colonel Viktor Alksnis told The Insider that the Su-34 appeared to have been performing a training flight, there were no bombs or missiles on board, and shells began to burst as the plane fell.

The next accident happened a few days later – on October 23, a Su-30SM fighter jet fell on a two-story house in Irkutsk. At the time of the crash there was no one there, both pilots were killed. Russia’s Investigative Committee put forward two versions: equipment failure and piloting error. State-owned news outlet RIA Novosti wrote that the pilots could have lost consciousness during the flight due to the improper preparation of their oxygen cylinders.

Five reported cases of military aircraft crashes were reported over the spring and sumer: an An-26 in the Voronezh region on the first day of the invasion, a MiG-31 in the Leningrad region on April 8, a Su-25 in the Belgorod region on 17 June, a Su-25 in the Rostov region on 21 June and an Il-76 in the Ryazan region on 24 June.

“The equipment is aging. American B-52 strategic bombers were made in the 1950s and have been flown for nearly 70 years now, and as far as I know, there are plans to upgrade them and they will fly until they're 100 years old. There are certain ratios of air incidents based on hours flown. I don't see anything surprising to ring all the bells just yet.
We don't know the number of combat losses of our air force because that data is classified. But even if we believe the figures from foreign sources (they say that we lost supposedly 50 aircraft in Ukraine), it is impossible to suffer so many non-combat losses in one year, because it is very difficult to hide them. Count how many flying accidents there were during that year. And if we believe that we lost 50 aircrafts and compare these figures, I repeat, there were no non-combat losses of such a number this year,” Alksnis points out.

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