A Russian pilot tried to defect to Italy with his Tu-22M3 strategic bomber like the MiG-25 Foxbat defected to Japan

A Russian Tu-22M3 bomber. File photo: Reuters

Russia on Monday said it had foiled an attempt by Kyiv to get a Russian military pilot to defect with his strategic bomber to Ukrainian-held territory.

An unknown group of personnel offered the pilot and his family members more than £1,5 million and Italian citizenship should he successfully land aircraft at a NATO airbase in Italy.

On September 6, 1976, a MIG-25 “Foxbat” fighter landed at Hakodate airport in Hokkaido on Labour Day. The Soviet pilot, brandishing a pistol from his cockpit, requested political asylum in the United States.

A Russian pilot defected to Japan with his MiG-25 Foxbat aircraft.

The FSB security service said in a statement that “the secret services of NATO countries” were involved in the plan to capture a TU-22M3 bomber plane.

Lieutenant Viktor Belenko

It said Ukraine had promised the pilot financial compensation and Italian citizenship “to persuade him to land the strategic bomber in Ukraine.”

The FSB said it had been able to obtain information during the counter-espionage operation that allowed Russian forces to strike an air base in Ukraine.

In recent days, Russian forces have carried out several strikes on Ukrainian air bases as Kyiv awaits the delivery of F-16 fighter jets promised by the West.

Ukraine last year persuaded a Russian pilot, Maxim Kuzminov, to defect with his Mi-8 helicopter into Ukrainian territory.

The deserter was found dead in Spain in February. Russia has been accused of assassinating enemies at home and abroad but has always denied the allegations.

Kyiv regularly accuses Russia of trying to recruit from the Ukrainian side.

Ukraine’s SBU security service said in May that it had dismantled a network of FSB agents preparing to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky and arrested two Ukrainian officers accused of being part of the plot.

Tu-22M3 strategic bombers – a crucial weapon in the Kremlin’s arsenal

Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bombers are modernized versions of older Tu-22M models, capable of carrying up to 24,000 kilograms of armament. The payload includes, among others, Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missiles, 18 guided FAB-500 bombs, or eight FAB-1500 bombs, each weighing approximately 1,500 kilograms, enabling the attack of multiple targets in a single raid.

Thanks to their enormous payload capacity and a high cruising speed of almost Mach 1.9 (approximately 2,300 km/h) at a high altitude of roughly 13 kilometers, Tu-22M3 bombers can attack targets in Ukraine from beyond the range of most anti-aircraft systems. The exceptions are only medium-range solutions like the Patriot and SAMP/T, of which Ukraine has too few. However, it is worth noting that the Ukrainians managed to shoot down one Tu-22M3 using the old S-200 Vega system, but so far, this has been an isolated case.

Another advantage of the Tu-22M3 bombers for Russia is their operational range of about 7,000 kilometers, allowing attacks from deep within Russia. This makes destroying them on the ground more complicated than using drones with Su-34 tactical bombers, which must be kept closer to the conflict region.

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