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Efforts by Ukrainian companies to repair Mi-17V-5 helicopters of the Afghan armed forces have inspired outrage in the Russian ‘information space.’ On 7 December, the Russian media characterised the efforts as “illegal” – some outlets going even further and evoking the image of the “flying coffins” the aircraft would become after completion of the work. [See MON report 9 December at Russia Accuses Ukraine of Putting American Lives at Risk - Mönch Verlagsgesellschaft mbH (monch.com)]

The contract, covering the repair of two Mi-17V-5, was awarded to engine manufacturer Motor Sich and to Aviakon, which specialises in helicopter repair. As of 9 December, neither organisation has yet commented on the situation.

Russian indignation is nothing new in this regard. In 2009, Russian Helicopters accused LOTN – a Slovak company – of illegal repair of an identical aircraft belonging to the Afghan Army, disclaiming any future responsibility for the helicopter. In the case of the most recent accusation, however, the strong wording of the Russian Helicopters press release suggests the primary objective my not have been to disclaim responsibility, but rather to damage the image of Ukraine’s defence industry. The same applies to those Russian media who employed such emotive phrases as “flying coffins,” which seem to overstate the actual case by a significant margin.

The Ukrainian enterprises in question have been successfully conducting similar repair and overhaul work for decades. Not only have they accumulated the necessary knowledge and expertise – they have also gained the recognition and appreciation of a number of foreign customers in terms of maintenance, repair and overhaul of such helicopters. Moreover, previous work in this regard has hitherto failed to spark such outrage from the Russian media.

It is worth noting that the last known incident involving a Russian-built Mi-17 belonging to the Afghan Army occurred during ongoing hostilities in Nangarhar Province where, according to the Afghan MoD, the aircraft was lost “due to a technical failure.” The Taliban, however, claimed they shot it down, leaving us with no verifiable detail as to cause – and there is no detail available as to recent maintenance and repair on the airframe.

Although nobody should be surprised by the openly hostile relations between Moscow and Kyiv, it is, perhaps, important to understand that the influence exerted by Russia almost a decade ago over the Ukrainian deal for delivery of $2.5 billion (€2 billion) of military equipment to Iraq has had a negative impact on Ukraine. On the other hand, the Russian Helicopters statement should not be given too much credence – though it should not be considered an act of ‘information warfare,’ either. Rather, it should be seen as no more than w a ‘war of words,’ especially given a similar declaration (admittedly, lacking the same severity of wording) issued several years ago by Antonov regarding the overhaul of An-124 aircraft by Ukraine.

Denys Kolesnyk reporting from Paris for MON

An Afghan Air Force Mi-17 taking off at Kabul Airport. (Photo: US DoD)

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