One of Ukraine’s Top Fighters Flees to Romania as Russia Dominates Skies: What Will Happen to the Runaway Su-27?

Following the initiation of a Russian military campaign in Ukraine on February 24, a Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 Flanker heavyweight fighter landed in neighbouring Romania at the RoAF 95th Air Base in the country’s northeast after the pilot apparently fled the conflict. The fighter was intercepted by two Romanian F-16s, with the Romanian Ministry of National Defense elaborating: “After landing, the Ukrainian military pilot made himself available to the Romanian authorities, and the legal measures required in these situations will be taken.” This comes as NATO had broadly supported Ukraine's position in the conflict with member states widely imposing economic sanctions on Moscow. Russia succeeded in neutralising Ukrainian air defences within 2-3 hours, and notably made Ukrainian aircraft another priority target with unconfirmed reports indicating several were destroyed on the ground. Ukraine’s 1980s fighter fleet has seen few improvements made since it was inherited from the Soviet Union, leaving it almost totally obsolete in the face of Russia’s modern combat aircraft participating in the campaign.

The vast discrepancy in performance between the Su-27 and modern Russian fighters such as the Su-35 led to speculation before hostilities broke out that in the event of war Ukrainian crews would be deterred from launching fighters or going into combat. Much the same was expected of Ukraine's yet more obsolete tank forces should Russian armour move into the country. The Su-27 was widely considered the most capable fighter fielded by any air force in the world when the Cold War ended, with Ukraine inheriting the largest number of them only after Russia itself. The country is the only Western-aligned operator of the class, which is by far its most outstanding aerial warfare asset. Should a Russian-aligned government be installed in Ukraine after the current campaign, it is unlikely that the fighter will be returned. One possibility is that it could be purchased by the United States, which previously acquired two Su-27s from Belarus for testing and training purposes, or else placed in a museum or in storage. 

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