Just a few days ago, on October 16, at about 17:00, a Russian made flanker jet Su-27 operated by the Ukrainian Air Force crashed approximately 185 miles southwest of Kyiv. Both American and Ukraine pilots died in the incident. The crash occurred during the multinational Clear Sky 2018 exercise. Militaries from nine countries were involved in the maneuvers with the main focus on “air sovereignty, air interdiction, air-to-ground integration, air mobility operations, aeromedical evacuation, cyber defense, and personnel recovery,” stated the U.S. Air Force representative in Europe. This was one of the largest exercises within the NATO alliance. More than 50 aircraft from eight NATO member-states, as well as planes of the Ukrainian Air Force, participated.
The Su-27 crash requires in-depth investigation. According to the UNIAN Information Agency “since one of the dead pilots of the aircraft was a member of the U.S. National Guard, the U.S. side is interested in taking part in the investigation”. However, the same agency reported that “according to Ukrainian legislation, they [U.S. National Guard experts] cannot be involved in the investigation.” The Ukrainians have suggested the possibility of creating a special group to handle the inquiry.
Because of corruption and politics, Ukrainian investigations can last for years. The Malaysia Airlines flight MH-117 was shot down over the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014, killing all 298 people onboard. The investigation is still going on more than four years later; there was also a special group formed for this incident. Knowing that Ukraine is swamped in corruption, It is dubious to rely on the Ukrainian authorities regarding the investigation into the SU-27 crash which killed the American pilot.
Ukraine has a controversial history in terms of military operations. Just two weeks ago Reuters reported that “Ukrainian authorities suspect sabotage lay behind explosions that tore through an ammunition depot in the early hours, sending fireballs into the sky and causing more than 12,000 people to be evacuated.” One of the largest and most secure military weapons storage facilities had just exploded. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that such an explosion would deprive Ukraine of much-needed ammunition and may weaken the Ukrainian army before the upcoming presidential elections. So the question becomes, was sabotage behind the Su 27 crash as well? Will the US and Ukrainian relationship be affected by this incident?
With regard to the multiple ammunition explosions, Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and full military support of separatist forces in the Donbass region, a finger could be pointed at Russian Federation for such incidents. Military depots do not just explode like air balloons without a reason, and military aircraft do not crash without mechanical failure, pilot error or other issues. There is always a reason.
Back in 2017, there was an explosion in the Kalynivka ammunition depot, where Ukraine’s remaining pieces of heavy tactical ballistic missiles were cut into scrap metal some time ago. According to Ukrainian journalist Andrii Starostin, Ukraine just celebrated “a questionable anniversary - It’s been 10 years since the Defense Ministry, headed by Anatolii Hrytsenko, together with a dedicated committee of the Ukrainian Parliament, led by him later, dealt yet another blow at the state’s defense capability. They decided to drop from arsenal the only heavy missiles we had back then” — the Elbrus/Scud class tactical ballistic missile systems, engineered by Russia and made by Kazakhstan. The destruction of the weapons was conducted at the ammunition depot in Kalynivka in the Vinnytsia region and ended in early fall 2010, the same depot targeted for sabotage.
My interest in these subjects led me to Mykola Malomuzh, a retired Ukrainian Army General, who served as the Chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine from April 2005 to June 2010. Malomuzh thinks that the US and Ukraine should continue with their original strategy of developing a new global defense base in Eurasia. A new collaborative framework should be developed taking into consideration extremely aggressive Russian foreign policy.
The General thinks Ukraine was deprived of heavy missiles during its “Russian Spring” for a reason. Malomuzh thinks that Russia has been using its agents of influence who are positioned in unthinkable levels inside the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine; several Russian citizens even were appointed to positions of Minister of Defense. Russia always wanted Scud missiles out Ukraine, to be removed or dislocated from the Eastern parts of the country away from the Russian border, he says. Russia wanted to remove all military fortifications from the east of Ukraine (currently occupied by pro-Russian forces). “They wanted no military fortifications there at all,” Malomuzh declared. Russia tracked this removal very rigorously and categorically imposed restrictions not to position military systems closer to the Russian border, otherwise “this would be considered as an act of aggression of Ukraine towards Russia”.
But how did Russia execute such a massive operation? Malomuzh believes the Russian citizenship of the Ministers of Defense Mr. Dmitriy Salamatin and Mr. Pavlo Lebedyev, had something to do with it. Their citizenship was verified by Ukrainian news outlet Censor.net. Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko was also one of the main supporters of the disarmament process even though he is Ukrainian, said the General.
Malomuzh believes these officials were pitching to a wider Ukraine audience that a war would never take place with Russia. This allowed them to liquidate military assets, systems and equipment. The newest systems would not be purchased, military operations would be ceased, pilots were grounded for decades, maintenance and repair ceased, tanks were sent for scrap and an aircraft carrier was sold to China.
General Malomuzh asked, Would a minister of health pitch to the public that people will never get sick? Then, how can ministers of defense pitch that there will never be a war? It makes sense for those Ukrainian Ministers of Defense who were, in fact, Russians – if they were trying to weaken or destroy the Ukrainian defense ability, but what possible motives drove other people, and why was Anatolii Hrytsenko, who is a Ukrainian citizen, supporting those ridiculous disarmament schemes?
Malomuzh declared that “It was clearly and deliberately set-up to cut the Ukrainian Scud rocket program - someone did not want the Ukrainians to be able to protect themselves,” he concluded. Obviously, no maintenance and repair were conducted for decades. Russian infiltrated spies may have cause sabotage problems such as the depot explosions, or the plane crash. If Russians citizens headed the Ministry of Defense in Ukraine, then what can be known about the Ukrainian army, he asked.
For that reason, it is very important for US Air Force experts to closely monitor and participate in the SU-27 investigation, even though there are certain laws in Ukraine that prevent US experts from getting full access. The Ukrainian government has no moral authority to restrict access for the US experts, especially taking into consideration the bad history of Russian penetration into the Ukrainian army since Soviet times, according to Malomuzh.
As a former USAF pilot myself, it is personal, and it is obvious the American military needs to be involved. So I have to agree with the General on that point.