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How the Ukraine Cashed In on the Ethiopia-Eritrean War 1999

Updated on September 21, 2012
A SU-27 in Eritrea
A SU-27 in Eritrea

In late 1998, the Ukraine, formerly part of Russia, desperately needed cash, like most of Russia. At the same time, both Ethiopia and Eritrea were clashing along the border for barren and mostly useless areas based on very old Italian defined borders. Ethiopia already had Russian era aircraft-MIG 21-23, but needed pilots and spare parts. This is when the Russian company, Rosvoorouzhenie, which was already in Ethiopia, stepped in and started cashing in. Ethiopia spent over 150 million dollars buying older and surplus Russian aircraft and parts. Some 80 Russians arrived in numerous IL-76 with new radar, weapons. Rumania, a former Russian ally, provided 10 MIG 23, which increased their amount to 18 MIG 23 and 10 MIG 21 (from Israel). This initial outlay to Russia and others ran around 11 million dollars. But, seeking more advanced aircraft would cost dearly, This is where they spent 150 million dollars buying eight Russian SU-27 and attack helicopters. The SU-27's were dismantled at Krasnodar AFB, loaded into cargo planes and flown to Ethiopia. Among the 80 Russians were five former Soviet generals and 25 former Soviet pilots, all now mercenaries. That is, soldiers for money. The Russians did not care about the war.

Eritrea was a smaller country and recently formed. They too, went to Russia or the Ukraine for military hardware. This small country spent 25 million dollars for each of their eight MIG 29A. For Russia, mere surplus aircraft not being used. Of course, more money flowed to the Ukraine in pilot training contracts from Eritrea- they had no pilots capable of flying the MIG. The few selected men were sent to the Ukraine for training. Both sides frequently used Russian pilots in the cockpit during the border clashes and these pilots were very well paid to fight in a war where they could lose their life. This was an odd occurrence when on March 18, 1999, the warring nations had their airforces in the air piloted by Russian pilots! One wonders if, in Russian, they communicated with each other about the air war and how to survive it. The problem was that both countries had antiaircraft missiles on the ground. Eritrea threatened to behead any Russian pilot captured.

As the war went on, both countries requested more weapons and aircraft from the former Soviet republics, but Moscow tried not to get any more involved. Eritrea wanted more MIG 29s but the requests were rejected. They also approached Georgia and Moldava.

The Ethiopia-Eritrea war ended in June, 2000. For Eritrea, it was a good thing, they were making a last stand of sorts. For Russia, that war, that had killed over 10,000, proved to be quite lucrative. They still maintain ties with both countries.

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