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Russia’s MIG diplomacy 11, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Lebanon, Russia.
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I have written before about Russia’s use of its MIG fighter planes as part of its diplomatic strategy. It seems that this instance was by no means unique. The Times of London reported back in December 2008 that it was donating 10 MiG 29 Fulcrum fighters to the Lebanese government. The article further commented that this was seen potentially as the first of many such heavy ordinance arms deals. Yet is this quite the benevolent gift that it seems? I don’t mean this in terms of what the Russians are getting in return, but simply is this a good thing for the Lebanese?


First, considering that the Lebanese air force consists solely of a few massively outdated Hawker Hunter aircraft, they certainly do not have the pilots for such relatively new and complex machines. Training them will be costly and time consuming.


Second, whilst the planes are covered by some kind of warranty, this will eventually run out, leaving the Lebanese with a massively expensive bill for upkeep and parts. (Discounting the fact that they probably don’t have mechanics skilled enough to maintain the planes).


Third, this puts the Lebanese in a very awkward place with their American allies. Accepting this gift will not go down well in Washington in any, way shape or form and rejecting it will offend Russia.


Fourth, as angry as the US Administration might be, Bashar Assad in Syria is guaranteed to be practically apoplectic. Whilst Syria’s forces remain vastly superior (in number if nothing else) the fact that Lebanon has such potentially devastating weapons will not sit well with Assad’s military.


All this may be a moot point if Al Nahar recent reports are to be believed. They quote Russian sources maintaining that the MiGs are unsafe and probably ought to be scrapped. Russian’s entire MiG fleet was grounded recently after a second MiG crashed in Siberia killing its pilot. Adding to the calls insisting that Russia’s jets are of poor quality is Algeria, which is returning 15 of the MiGs that it purchased.


In short, it seems that the MiG is most certainly a plank of Russia’s foreign policy strategy. Just how useful a tool it is, however, is up for debate. The Lebanese example seems to have backfired on Russia. Not only was it intrinsically not a good proposition for the Lebanese, but now that they are little more than expensive scrap metal. This, along with the Algerian example, could seriously damage Russia’s arms exporting reputation, a crucial earner of hard currency for its struggling economy.


(Many thanks to Arab Media Shack for the hat tip)