Living in denial: Moscow refuses to confront downed Tu-22 realities

In the early morning of April 19, a Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bomber fell from the sky in the Stavropol region of Russia. The four crew members ejected as the rear engine was engulfed in flames. Three were found and evacuated, but the fourth was unfortunately reported dead via line 112—Russian emergency numbers and helplines. The Kremlin was quick to declare a “technical malfunction” as the cause, hoping the 300 km distance from Stavropol to Ukraine would be accepted as “impossible for Ukrainian forces” to shoot down a plane so far into Russia. 

Russian VKS will receive modernized Tu-22M3M long-range bombers
Photo credit: The National Interest

However, Ukraine’s perspective is different. They claim that an upgraded Soviet S-200 air defense system shot down the Russian bomber right where it was reported—300 km from Ukraine. The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine even published a video capturing the moment of the operation to eliminate the plane, which minutes before had “sent” Kh-22 [Kitchen] missiles over Odesa. Officially, Kyiv took responsibility, eliminating any doubts about the alleged “technical malfunction”.

Russia seldom admits that an enemy has shot down its warplane. Naturally, this does not work in Moscow’s or Russian citizens’ favor, as the incorrect impression creates more local questions than the Kremlin would prefer to answer. Take for instance the recent terrorist attack in Moscow— the Kremlin was quick to assign culpability to Ukraine, fully aware that acknowledging the presence of terrorist cells on Russian soil would raise unanswerable questions about intelligence penetrations and security lapses. This becomes more questionable considering that warnings from the West were evident weeks before the disastrous event. But that’s a topic for another day… 

russian / soviet S-200 missile system
Photo credit: Twitter

The Kremlin is reticent to discuss how Russian Aerospace Forces [VKS] allowed a Tu-22M3 to be shot down by a Ukrainian missile. Not because it’s implausible, but because it raises awkward questions. For instance, hasn’t the Kremlin realized yet that when a nation is defending itself, it would counter-attack using all means necessary to safeguard its sovereignty?  Does Moscow still believe that the war is confined to Ukraine’s “backyard” and will stay contained there? If, from Moscow’s perspective, this “military special operation” is about protecting national Russian interests and sovereignty, what about Ukraine’s position?

The loss of the first Tu-22M3 bomber is hardly an issue for the Russian command, as Russia possesses over 100 such bombers. However, the downing of the T-22M3 is a relentless nightmare for the Kremlin, a truth they would much rather not face. This incident is not a one-off. Similar incidents, such as the downing of the Russian A-50 early warning plane, the Il-76 transport carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war, or the charred quad launchers of the S-400 anti-aircraft system spotted just days ago at the Crimean Dzhankoi air base, are worth considering. Even the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, Moskva, was wiped out nearly two years ago. Let’s not forget their significant missile carriers, battleships, and vessels. 

Russia seems to be waging an analog war akin to those of the 1980s. Lacking the powerful production capacity of the Russian Federation, Ukraine relies not only on its own resources but also heavily on Western military equipment. In reality, Ukraine currently boasts a defense strategy far more advanced and substantial than Russia’s, especially regarding domestic offensives.

'Our norm is 120 posts per day'. The life of a Kremlin troll
Photo credit: DW

As we’ve previously discussed, the Tu-22M3 is not the only vital asset Russia is sacrificing. From the current maneuvers of the Russian General Command, it seems certain there will be more to come. In an unrecognized nightmare, Russia lives with the constant threat of a ‘weaker’ Ukraine attacking it – anytime, anywhere. Ukrainian strikes on key energy and gas structures within Russia exacerbate this situation.

Adding further to this, while Ukraine is on a defensive front, it isn’t halting its development. For instance, the Sokol 300, a drone capable of reaching the distant Arctic bases of the Russian Air Force in one flight, poses a threat. These bases are from where the Tu-22, Tu-95, and Tu-160 anxiously take off to strike Ukrainian positions. Yet, the day may not be far when reports of drone attacks reaching Murmansk are read and losses tallied via satellite images.

The sooner the Kremlin acknowledges the downing of the Tu-22M3 by the Ukrainian armed forces as much more than a mere ‘technical malfunction’ and begins to recognize Ukrainian progress, the sooner their nightmare might end.

It's possible now for Russia to send a Tu-22M3 bomber to Syria
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Until such a time, Russian society will go on without raising questions about their nation’s security. You see, today Russia is just as vulnerable as Ukraine. The only difference is Ukrainians don’t possess the magnitude of weapons that the Russians do. Otherwise, there’s no difference. Except for the nightmare the Kremlin refuses to concede to dreaming.

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