In a dramatic turn of events, a Russian Mi-8 helicopter pilot boldly defected to Ukraine, bringing his chopper with him and surrendering to Ukrainian special forces, according to a report from Ukrayinska Pravda on August 23.
The Ukrainian special services successfully captured the helicopter due to a special operation conducted by the Main Intelligence Agency (GUR) of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.
The news outlet cited its high-ranking sources within the special services. Ukrainian intelligence successfully lured the pilot of a Mi-8 AMTSh helicopter to Ukraine as part of an operation that extended for over six months.
Although the precise date of the Russian helicopter’s defection to Ukraine remains undisclosed, reports suggest the helicopter was flown to Ukraine a few weeks ago.
The aircraft reportedly ferried spare components destined for Russian Su-27 and Su-30 multi-role fighters, known as “Flankers” in NATO terminology, between two separate Russian air bases. This task served as a means for the pilot to obscure the actual duration of the flight.
Alongside the pilot, two crew members were on board, unaware of the actual destination of the helicopter. Eventually, the Mi-8 landed in the Kharkiv region.
Although the full details of the incident remained undisclosed at the time, Ukrainian social media eagerly labeled it as “the first conscious surrender of such equipment by the Russian Federation.”
The Ukrainian Poltava military airbase, where the helicopter eventually landed, is approximately 100-200 kilometers from the front lines.
The tale of this successful operation holds the potential to be one of Ukraine’s most successful endeavors in the entire conflict, attributed to the helicopter’s intact recovery.
Additionally, the helicopter would be utilized to bolster the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) after thoroughly examining its equipment.
Andriy Yusov, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Directorate of Military Intelligence (HUR), confirmed on the 1+1 TV channel that the success was the outcome of a meticulously planned special operation spanning six months and carried out by his division.
Even though the HUR withheld detailed specifics of the operation for security reasons, the known information remained astonishing and underscored the achievements of the Ukrainian intelligence agency.
Only the pilot, among the three crew members, knew about the unfolding situation. Yusov shared that the HUR had arranged for the pilot’s family to be discreetly relocated from Russia to Ukraine before the defection, a preparatory measure.
Upon arrival at Poltava, Ukrainian forces secured the aircraft, during which it appears that the remaining two crew members declined to surrender and, as a consequence, were, in the HRU’s words, “eliminated.”
Concluding its statement, the directorate affirmed that the Mi-8 helicopter and the spare parts for the fighter jets would remain within Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Persistent Attempts To Lure Russian Pilots
On the other hand, military bloggers from the Russian side assert that the Russian Mi-8 helicopter, which went missing a few weeks back, was forced to land at the Poltava airfield due to issues like “GPS jamming and similar factors.”
Russian aviation blogger Fighterbomber claimed this, further elaborating that the crew tried to take off once they realized they were lured into a trap, which resulted in injuries or casualties.
They emphasized not circulating alternate versions, such as the notion that the helicopter was voluntarily surrendered.
However, the Ukrainian accounts appear more plausible, given that the distance to the Ukrainian airfield was considerable enough for the pilot to realize the wrong direction.
Experts have also emphasized that regardless of the GPS technology, flying a helicopter around 100-150 kilometers into foreign territory – a journey that typically takes at least half an hour – suggests potential deficiencies in navigational proficiency and situational awareness.
Ukrainian media outlets have further suggested that the pilot might have been motivated by a $500,000 reward offered by Ukraine for surrendering the helicopter. This is being touted as the most attractive choice for Russian pilots.
Even in the past, Ukraine had reportedly employed a similar strategy of enticing Russian pilots with financial incentives and assurances of securing their family’s safe departure from Russia. This approach is aimed at encouraging these pilots to defect along with their aircraft.
In March, the EurAsian Times provided an account of Ukrainian intelligence agencies’ efforts to persuade three Russian pilots to defect with their respective military aircraft, encompassing a Su-34 fighter bomber, a Tu-22M3 strategic bomber, and a Su-24 tactical bomber.
These pilots were allegedly offered monetary incentives of up to $1 million in exchange for their cooperation. However, the Russian agency reportedly became aware of this plot, leading to the mission’s failure.