Peacekeeping: April 24, 2002


The Russian helicopter detachment with the UN forces in Sierra Leone (officially known as UNAMSIL's Russian Aviation Unit) earn about $7 million a year for Moscow's budget.

The Russian helicopter detachment, stationed in Sierra Leone since August 2000, is essentially a state-sanctioned mercenary group. The detachment musters 115 pilots and technicians, as well as four MI-24 helicopter gunships and is based on the Lunga airfield (17km north of the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown). 

According to a 23 April press briefing by Major General Sergei Dementyev, deputy commander of the Land Forces army aviation in charge of armament service, that the four Mi-24 gunships and crews were averaging about 200 flight hours per month.

He also quoted the commander of the UN forces in Sierra Leone, Lieutenant General Daniel Opande, as saying that the Russian combat helicopters had made a sufficient contribution to stabilizing the country. 

The detachment will undergo a regularly scheduled rotation of the entire unit personnel roster in the second half of June, which is a very clever way for the Kremlin to share the financial rewards of UN duty amongst it's helicopter aviation branch. Since the beginning of the mission, the number of those volunteering to go to the hotspot exceeded the overall number of slots for the African peacekeeping contingent. 

This keeps aviators and mechanics in uniform, while letting Kofi Annan pay the Russians to keep their Hind crews sharp. - Adam Geibel


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