Someone Just Shot Down Two Ukrainian Helicopters
Shit just got real over Donetsk
“According to the preliminary data, the combat wing aircraft were shot down by unknown persons by means of man-portable air-defense system,” Kiev’s defense ministry announced. “Two servicemen of the Ukrainian armed forces are dead, several persons are wounded.”
Donetsk, near the border with Russia, has seen escalating violence in recent weeks as pro-Russian citizens, reinforced by Moscow’s agents, have agitated for a split from Ukraine. The conflict comes two months after Russian forces annexed Ukraine’s strategic Crimean peninsula.
NATO is slowly assembling a powerful air force along the Russian frontier in order to deter further aggression. And Ukraine is hurriedly mobilizing its own aging air arm. If confirmed, the reported Hind shoot-downs would represent the first warplane losses of this new cold war.
Kiev also claims gunmen damaged, but did not bring down, an Mi-8 transport flying over Donetsk.
The possible presence of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles should worry everyone, as they risk deeply destabilizing an already dangerous stand-off. Cheap, easy to use and lethal against aircraft, these man-portable air-defense systems—or MANPADS—are among the most sensitive items in the world arms trade.
The U.S. supplied MANPADS to Afghan fighters in the 1980s and exacted a bloody toll from occupying Soviet forces. Iraqi insurgents packing Russian-style MANPADS shot down several U.S. and allied aircraft. More recently, Syrian rebels have acquired some of the missiles—probably via Arab allies—and have begun hitting back at regime aircraft.
U.S. president Barack Obama is reportedly considering sending additional MANPADS to the rebels, but the State Department is worried the fighters could transfer the missiles to terrorists. “In the wrong hands, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles pose a major threat,” State Department assistant secretary Andrew Shapiro said in 2012.
Kiev has almost, but not quite, blamed Moscow for providing the MANPADS to the Donetsk agitators. “This fact of the [MANPADS’] use against the Ukrainian armed forces testifies that the well trained and armed groups are currently acting in Donetsk,” the defense ministry explained.
After the two shoot-downs, Ukraine still possesses another 46 Hind gunships.