TechKazakhstan's Cold War aircraft sale to the US raises alarm in Russia

Kazakhstan's Cold War aircraft sale to the US raises alarm in Russia

MiG-29 in the service of Kazakhstan
MiG-29 in the service of Kazakhstan
Images source: © Licensor

8:12 AM EDT, April 28, 2024

Russian and Ukrainian media have reported that Kazakhstan has sold up to 81 military aircraft from the USSR era. This deal allegedly involves the United States, sparking Russian concerns that the aircraft may end up in Ukraine. Here, we delve into the types of aircraft involved and why their transfer would be particularly troubling for the Kremlin.

The trend of moving away from military contracts with Russia has been becoming more noticeable. Notably, even countries long considered close allies of the Kremlin are making this shift. For example, India is turning to Western weapons and its own manufacturing capabilities despite being the world's largest arms importer, and Serbia recently announced plans to purchase French Rafale fighters. It's suggested that Astana has sold 81 Soviet-era aircraft to the USA via offshore companies, and there's speculation that these might be passed on to Ukraine.

Is Kazakhstan shedding its Soviet-era aircraft?

Kazakhstan's relations with Moscow have been cooling despite its close ties with Russia, including membership in pro-Russian integration structures like the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Until now, Kazakhstan had not made significant moves, such as selling a large portion of its Soviet-era military equipment.

Kazakhstan intended to sell primarily MiG-27 and MiG-29 fighters and Su-24 bombers. These machines were likely cataloged as being in poor technical condition and unfit for service.

However, the American interest in such "opportunities" is no secret, as they and Ukrainians often seek to refurbish old aircraft. Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to repurpose equipment that some would consider beyond repair. There have been notable discussions recently about Su-25 aircraft from North Macedonia and earlier American attempts to procure Soviet-era equipment from Ecuador. Claims of poor technical condition for Soviet or Russian aircraft sometimes facilitate these deals.

Additional Su-24s would be a significant asset for Ukraine

MiG-27 and MiG-29 fighters, along with Su-24 bombers, are extensively used in the ongoing war in Ukraine by both sides. Despite their age, these aircraft continue to offer considerable capabilities.

From the Western perspective, the prospect of bolstering the Ukrainian forces with additional Su-24s is particularly appealing. First flown in July 1967, this bomber is over 72 feet long with a wingspan of about 55 feet. Two AL-21F-3 turbojet engines power it and can operate at altitudes up to 60,695 feet.

Known for its variable-geometry wings, the Su-24 can carry various weapons. Ukraine has adapted it to deploy long-range maneuvering missiles like the Storm Shadow and SCALP-EG provided by the UK and France, respectively.

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