Ominous Warning: Russian Air Power in Ukraine

Calculus over Crimea and the Weimar Republic

14-Apr 2014: Updates on Ukraine Crisis see here.
Photo: Chris Lofting
[Above] EAF (Ukrainian Air Force) Su-27UB photographed during 'happier times' at Belbek in 2012.

History tells us that opposing forces must 'not be in close proximity to one another. The probability of miscalculation is too high. Ukrainian and Russian forces must not provoke one another. This includes soldiers and paramilitaries on the ground, aircraft, and naval vessels (and now Russian and NATO aircraft and ships). This whole situation can turn into a shooting war – very easily.

One of our largest concerns has been these Russian/Pro-Russian paramilitary units (in Crimea) and perhaps elsewhere. They are volatile and dangerous - and were involved in the death of at least one Ukrainian soldier.

Details forthcoming - details will change. There is so much happening we've been forced to step back and attempt to give some larger historical perspective. Economics and military matters are never far apart. To understand what is happening and the forces at work regarding the Ukraine crisis - a quick revisiting of the economics in Europe in the 1930s is relevant here:

The first Wall-Street crash of 1929 destabilized the fragile Weimar Republic (a semi-presidential republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government). The 29 crash and resulting Great Depression was (also) a global phenomenon - and would be 'the stick that broke the camels back' for the fledgling German Republic. The ravaged German economy produced a surge of Xenophobia and Nationalism - and plunged Germany into the arms of the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

“Ukraine's economy was buoyant despite political turmoil between the prime minister and president until mid-2008. The economy contracted nearly 15% in 2009, among the worst economic performances in the world. In April 2010, Ukraine negotiated a price discount on Russian gas imports in exchange for extending Russia's lease on its naval base in Crimea.” – CIA World Fact Book

For the roots of the current crisis in Ukraine, the second massive Wall Street crash of 2008-09 asphyxiated the fragile Ukrainian economy and destabilized an already precarious Kiev government. Indeed 5 years after the crash - the Ukrainian economy is in ruins.

After independence Ukraine has been subjected to a lethal cocktail of:
  1. Insufficient history of/with democratic institutions.
  2. Severe economic stress in the form of withering internal corruption and plunder.
  3. A second massive global Wall-Street banking crisis.
Academics and other thinkers - appear to have missed this point.

With talk of western-style austerity measures by the interim Kiev government, we wonder if the larger threat of further destabilization of Ukraine are the bond traders. Like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Ukraine must get on a solid economic footing. Austerity measures (at this point in history) can not do that – and will only serve to sow instability.

We are using inauthentic threat models in the Ukraine discussion. The real threat to global stability is a OOC (Out Of Control) Wall Street-Casino banking system and unprecedented debt. "Behavior of the 20 century" indeed: Xenophobia and Nationalistic rise in Ukraine 5 years after a financial collapse on par the Great Depression and with uncanny parallels to the Weimar Republic.

God help us if NATO expansion continues unchecked into former eastern block countries with fragile democracies and wrecked economies?

The United States, the EU, and the West must understand that people around the world may not wait for our institutions (the IMF, the World Bank, the Federal Reserve, other regulatory bodies) to ruminate about what steps should be taken after the 2008-09 global banking collapse - to move money in the direction of the low income and the (new) poor. And certainly not embark on austerity. The economy in Crimea had been even worse than the rest of Ukraine.

While we do not condone Moscow's actions - the West (the United States) can today only equivocate that it universally delivers "a better life" to its citizenry. Only Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein benefit.

If Kiev proceeds with austerity measures - we doubt the modern state of Ukraine will survive the end of the year (end of 2014). 

Russia announced $5-6 billion of infrastructure spending for Crimea including new bridge and quadrupling of state pensions and bureaucratic pay. At the same time, antiwar protest erupts in Moscow.
[Above] 07-Apr 2014: Su-27s over Donetsk.To date, we assume they are Ukrainian. IFF issues have begun.

There is no doubt the international system is taken a beating over this crisis. The plunder of the Ukrainian treasury by Yanukovych was not helpful.

20-Mar 2014: [Below] Ukrainian Navy vessels have been boarded by pro-Russian paramilitaries. Again these people are reckless, volatile - very dangerous. There are also reports of defections by Ukrainian military personnel over to Russia.

15-Mar 2014: [Below] This video surfaced and appears to show Mil Mi-24 (NATO reporting name 'Hind') attack helicopters. Where this was recorded and whose helicopters - is unclear right now. 
14-Mar 2014:  [To date no evidence has been provided by Russian authorities of any NATO drone recoveries over Crimea.] Russia claims it recovered a NATO (US) MQ-5B drone from the 66th US brigade over Crimea airspace and claims it is the second drone to be detected, jammed, and recovered using the Russian Kvant 1L222 ‘Avtobaza’ ELINT System. A system like this may have been what allowed Iran to recover the CIA RQ-170. If true - NATO and the United States are going to be for a rude awakening as 11 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has not been against a peer adversary. 
[Above] MQ-5B. The drone has roughly 11 hours of endurance. [Below] Russian Kvant ‘Avtobaza’ ELINT System.

13-Mar 2014: USAFE (US Air Force Europe) has approximately 130+ Mission Ready fighter aircraft (3 fighter wings divided into 6 fighter squadrons, at 3 bases, in 3 countries).

F-16 Squadrons (62 F-16C and 6 F-16D) 
  • 510th FS at Aviano AB/Italy - 20 Mission Ready F-16CM and 2 F-16DM.
  • 555th FS at Aviano AB/Italy - 20 Mission Ready F-16CM and 2 F-16DM.
  • 480th FS at Spangdahlem /West Germany - 22 Mission Ready F-16CM and 2 F-16DM.
F-15 Squadrons (48 F-15E, 20 F-15C and 1 F-15D)
  • 492th FS at Lakenheath/GB - 24 Mission Ready F-15E.
  • 493rd FS at Lakenheath/GB - 20 Mission Ready F-15C and 1 F-15D.
  • 494th FS at Lakenheath/GB - 24 Mission Ready F-15E.
12-Mar 2014: MINSK, (RIA Novosti) – Belarus to ask Russia to deploy upwards of 15 additional combat aircraft on its territory in response to increased NATO military activity along the country’s borders.

06-Mar 2014: US sends twelve F-16CM/DMs from the 380th and/or the 555th to Poland plus six F-15Cs from the 493rd Fighter Squadron (UK) to the Baltic. Two KC-135s tankers and E-3 AWACS were dispatched eastward as well. One E-3 to Poland and a second E-3 to Romania. No F-22A stealth-fighter movements have been announced. 

If tensions continue to increase - pressure to forward deploy Raptors will increase. After all - this is what the F-22 was precisely designed to confront?
[Above] USAF F-16s from Aviano AB Italy - visiting new Polish F-16s at Łask AB in 2013. [Below] F-15C based at Lakenheath in the UK.
[Below] 07-Mar 2014: The Russian navy scuttles a decommissioned Kara-class cruiser ‘Ochakov’ across the mouth of Donuzlav Lake to prevent Ukrainian navy ships from access to/from the Black Sea. 
[04-Mar 2014] Colonel Yuri Mamchur, commander of the Ukrainian garrison at the Belbek airbase, leading his men to base is confronted by (what we believe are) Russian paratroopers (in helmets) together with another group of paramilitaries. Ukrainian MiG-29 (Fulcrum-Cs) of the 204th Tactical Aviation Brigade are clearly visible on tarmac, (likely non-flyable examples). Pay close attention to body language of the trooper. He keeps his hands behind his back - with weapon in front. This is a non-aggressive posture. The magnitude of this whole situation is written all over his face. One paramilitary uses his cell phone - so NSA should know all about this?
As it stands right now - economic sanctions by the US on Russia may prove highly problematic especially for Boeing and Lockheed.

All possible steps to de-escalate the situation should be undertaken by all parties. If this turns into a shooting war - nothing good will come of it.

After the break-up of the USSR Ukraine retained a large contingent of Soviet aircraft. However, since that time Ukraine's fixed-wing force has dwindled markedly.
[Top] Su-27 (NATO code name 'Flanker') of the 831st Tactical Aviation Brigade based at Myrhorod. By 2014, the Ukrainian Su-27 force has dwindled to less than 20 operational examples. Four Su-27s operating from Belbek Airbase in Crimea conducted CAPs for the Olympic Games in Sochi. Photograph was likely taken around 2011.

After the collapse of the USSR, some Ukrainian Flankers found their way to Eritrea, (Ethiopia ?), the United States, and a T-10K (Su-33 prototype) went to China to become the Shenyang J-15. The PRC acquisition may be a lingering source of friction between Moscow and Kiev? Although the two UB examples that went to the US had their weaponry removed, it is unclear if the acquisitions had tacit approval from Moscow.

[Below] Good shot of Ukrainian Su-25M.
photos: airheadsfly
[Above] This photo appeared on 03-Mar 2014 of a Ukrainian Su-27 fully loaded for air-to-air mission. Aircraft "45" was likely photographed during the CAP missions conducted for the Sochi Olympics Games flying out of Belbek in Crimea - just weeks before the crisis. Note the Su-27 series never operate with external drop tanks.

02-Mar 2014: This video of what are clearly Mil Mi-28 (NATO reporting name 'Havoc') attack helicopters. This type is not operated by Ukraine but is operated by the Russian Federation.

[Below] The first sign of trouble. Believed to be Russian 'Hind' gunship helicopters over Crimea on 28-Feb 2014:

Strength (operational) of Ukrainian Air Force might be around:
  • 16 - Su-27
  • 15-20 - Mig-29
  • 8 - Su-24M
  • 5 - Su-24MR
  • 14-18  Su-25
MiG-29Cs of the UAF (Ukrainian Air Force) in Crimea. These aircraft do not appear airworthy. How much money has been siphoned out of Ukraine's treasury by ceaseless corruption - is unknown. The UAF has two additional MiG-29 squadrons. One in Kiev and another in Ivano-Frankovik AB. The number of airworthy examples at Kiev and Ivano-Frankovik is unknown.

[Above/Below] 40+ Fulcrum Cs and UBs of the 40th TAB, 114th TAB, and 204th TAB stored at Belbek AB in Crimea.
Russian airpower simply annihilated Georgian ground forces during the Russia–Georgian War of 2008 and operated under impossible IFF (identification friend or foe) conditions - as the Georgians operated the same aircraft types, helicopters types, and vehicle/armor types as Russia. This fact was totally (totally) missed by both Western and Russian analysts.

Details will appear as they are available. From the BBC News.
[Below] Russian gas pipelines move through Ukraine and Belarus to Western Europe and EU.
There is no doubt the international system has taken a beating over this crisis in Ukraine-Crimea. As uncomfortable as this is; there are also eerie parallels to US actions in Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, and particularly Haiti in 2004-05. 

The international system had already been bludgeoned by the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Abu Ghraib, drone strikes (killing hundreds of innocent foreign nationals - including children), detentions at CIA facilities off US soil (like Poland), Guantanamo Bay, NSA collection, reckless Wall Street-Bank regulation, and torture. These events reveal a government that is Out of Control.

This does not exonerate Russian actions over Crimea; however, we hold the United States to a higher standard of behavior. And with respect to the international system.

Perhaps the Social Democrats in Germany warnings on the situation in Ukraine, have said it best: "Europe stands dangerously close to the brink of a military confrontation.” “One hundred years after the start of World War I, military force should never again become the means of conducting politics” “Europe stands at a crossroads” “We must do everything in our power to prevent a new division of our continent and a regression into a pattern of confrontation long considered overcome.”

Europe and the U.S. have been abuzz with speculation on Putin’s world view and intention(s). This might be very simple. Russia has always developed a counter to American advances. Russia might simply be returning to its former role - of restraining the United States and American influence?

Your thoughts?

#NATO, #UkraineConflict

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