Russia Thwarts Theft Of Strategic Military Bomber By Ukraine

A recent report from Russian officials indicated the successful interception of a Russian pilot being tempted to defect to Ukraine with a Tupolev Tu-22M3 “Backfire” bomber. The pilot was reportedly lured with offers of Italian citizenship and financial rewards in exchange for stealing the bomber.

The FSB has accused Ukrainian special services, allegedly supported by NATO countries, of engineering the defection ploy. As claimed by the FSB, attempts were made to talk the pilot into hijacking the bomber and flying it to Ukraine. The involvement of NATO countries in not only planning but also carrying out the scheme was underscored by the FSB. This is now the second such allegation leveled against Ukraine for trying to entice a Russian pilot into making off with a “Backfire” bomber.

In a press release, the FSB stated, “The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation has thwarted yet another attempt by Ukrainian special services to carry out an operation to hijack a long-range strategic bomber Tu-22M3 of the Russian Aerospace Forces abroad, and the involvement of NATO special services in its preparation and implementation has been revealed.”

The FSB added that Ukrainian intelligence intended to recruit the pilot for monetary compensation and Italian citizenship. The plan was for the pilot to fly the bomber and land it in Ukraine. Russian counterintelligence agents reportedly gathered information during the operation that enabled the Russian Armed Forces to target the Ukrainian Armed Forces airfield “Ozernoye.”

The Tupolev Tu-22M is a supersonic, variable-sweep wing, long-range strategic and maritime strike bomber developed by the Tupolev Design Bureau in the 1960s. During the Cold War, it served the Soviet Air Forces in strategic bombing roles and the Soviet Naval Aviation in anti-shipping roles. As of 2021, 66 of these aircraft remained in service, heavily utilized in Ukraine for launching Kh-22/Kh-32 series supersonic standoff cruise missiles.

Ukrainian authorities have admitted to attempting to steal various Russian air assets throughout the war, including the Tu-22M3, Su-34 “Fullback,” and Su-24 “Fencer” strike aircraft, although these attempts failed in the summer of 2022. However, Ukraine successfully persuaded a Russian pilot to hijack his Mi-8AMTSh Hip combat transport helicopter in August 2023. The pilot, Maxim Kuzminov, was later found deceased in Spain in February.

Russia has been accused of assassinating adversaries at home and abroad but denies these allegations. Kuzminov’s body was discovered in a parking ramp beneath an apartment block in Villajoyosa, Alicante, with reports suggesting he was killed by unidentified gunmen. Kiev frequently accuses Russia of attempting to recruit Ukrainian individuals as well.

In May, Ukraine’s SBU security service announced the disruption of an FSB agent network planning to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky, resulting in the arrest of two Ukrainian officers involved in the plot.

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