Most have probably already seen or at least heard of one of the more stunning videos to appear yesterday, namely that of Col Yuri Mamchur, commander of 204th TABr, leading his unarmed men towards the Russian soldiers firing over their heads. Col Mamchur achieved his goal, and managed to negotiate some kind of an agreement with the Russian forces occupying Belbek air force base (Sevastopol). The whole unit was earlier erroeneously reported to have defected to the ‘Crimean authorities’, but apparently it remains loyal to Kiev and defiant towards the Russians.
I was a bit too trigger happy, and gladly shouted out that there are Su-27’s at the base, having misidentified the tails appearing in the video of the march, and not checked the Ukrainian air force OOB. It is MiG-29’s that the 204th TABr operates. Sorry about that.
Ukraine inherited a sizeable fleet of MiG-29’s of different variants, but today most of the earlier versions are gone, with as far as I can tell, all remaining operational aircraft being of the MiG-29S 9.13 or MiG-29UB 9.51 (two-seat trainer) variants, with a tiny number of upgraded MiG-29MU1 slowly becoming operational. One of the later is apparently at Belbek, although not yet in operational use.
From this page with pictures as well as video from Belbek, quite a number of MiG’s can be seen. How many of these are truly operational, and how many are in different states of long time storage/disrepair is hard to say, but I counted to 29 airframes (25 in the video, and a further 4 have been seen standing in the QRA-area in earlier photos), with at least 2 being two-seaters. Along with the MiG’s, three Aero L-39 can be seen in seemingly pristine condition with a digital three-tone grey/white scheme, meaning that they are probably of the upgraded L-39M1 version.
Exactly what aircraft are at Belbek at the moment is hard to say. RT gives the numbers as 45 MiG-29 fighter jets and 4 L-39, with only four fighters and one training aircraft currently operational, but I wouldn’t give RT much credit as an objective source normally, and even less so in this conflict. CombatAir reports that it “Seems the squadron had 11 operational Fulcrum C [sic] and UBs […] in 2013″.
It is equally hard to judge what kind of a loss it would be for the Ukrainian air force if the Russians decides to either destroy or take home as a war prize the aircrafts currently being held at the base. If most of the MiG-29’s are indeed in such a sorry state that some reports indicate, the loss of the four (or three?) L-39’s from the already small fleet of refurbished trainers might prove to be an even bigger blow.
As an interesting note, according to this source, 204th TABr traces its roots back to the 62nd Fighter Aviation Regiment of the Soviet air force, and had no less than six Heroes of the Soviet Union during WWII (this source doesn’t give a stragiht connection, but confirms the 62nd IAP’s presence at Belbek up until 1992).
Edit: Apparently, the situation has changed during the writing of this post, and Belbek is now in Russian hands. Will be interesting to follow how this develops from here.