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US buys 81 Soviet-era combat aircraft from Russia’s ally costing on average less than $20,000 each, report says

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The US has acquired 81 obsolete Soviet-era combat aircraft from Kazakhstan, the Kyiv Post reported.

Kazakhstan, which is upgrading its air fleet, auctioned off 117 Soviet-era fighter and bomber aircraft, including MiG-31 interceptors, MiG-27 fighter bombers, MiG-29 fighters, and Su-24 bombers from the 1970s and 1980s.

The declared sale value was one billion Kazakhstani tenge, said the Post, or $2.26 million, equalling an average value for each plane of $19,300.

The US purchased 81 of the aged, unusable warplanes, said the Ukrainian Telegram channel Insider UA, per the Post.

The motive behind the US purchase remains undisclosed, said the Post, but it raised the possibility of their use in Ukraine, where similar aircraft are in service.

The sale was made through offshore companies, said Reporter, a Russian English language news site.

Given Ukraine’s continued reliance on Soviet-era weapons, the aircraft could either serve as a source of spare parts or be strategically deployed as decoys at airfields, said the Post.

The Mikoyan MiG-31 was a supersonic interceptor designed to defend Soviet airspace, according to Airforce Technology. It played a critical role during the Cold War.

Derived from the MiG-23, the MiG-27 was a ground-attack aircraft and saw action in conflicts like the Soviet-Afghan War. The MiG-29 excelled in air-to-air combat. It was widely exported and remains in service with some air forces.

Despite its age, the Su-24 — an all-weather tactical bomber — remains in service with several air forces, including the Russian Aerospace Forces and Ukrainian Air Force.


MiG-31

MiG-31

Russian Defense Ministry



Kazakhstan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, has maintained close ties to Russia and historically was one of its strongest allies. But the relationship has shifted since Russia invaded Ukraine, with Kazakhstan aligning itself more with the West, drawing the fury of some in Russia.

The Central Asian country’s efforts to upgrade its military capabilities coincide with its increasing engagement with Western nations, signaling a shift away from historical ties with Moscow, per the Kyiv Post’s analysis.


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at Ak Orda Presidential Palace in Astana, Kazakhstan, on February 28, 2023.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at Ak Orda Presidential Palace in Astana, Kazakhstan, on February 28, 2023.

Olivier Douliery/Pool Photo via AP



Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kazakhstan in March 2023, where he said that the US strongly supports “its independence, its territorial integrity,” according to news agency AFP.

Some of Russia’s outspoken propagandists have suggested that Russia should look to Kazakhstan following its invasion of Ukraine.

One Russian TV commentator, Vladimir Solovyov, said that his country “must pay attention to the fact that Kazakhstan is the next problem because the same Nazi processes can start there as in Ukraine.”

Agreements on trade, education, environment, and mineral supplies reflect the deepening ties between Kazakhstan and Western nations as it navigates geopolitical challenges posed by neighboring countries like Russia, China, Afghanistan, and Iran.

Correction: April 28, 2024 — An earlier version of this story misstated the currency conversion rate of the Kazakhstani tenge to the dollar. One billion tenge is worth $2.26 million, not $1.5 million.

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