Russia has received permission from Ukraine to re-equip Black Sea Fleet Aviation Command's one strike unit with Sukhoi Su-24M Fencers. The Black Sea Fleet is based at Sevastopol in the Crimea, part of Ukraine.

The Gvardeyskoye-based 43 naval attack aviation squadron has operated ageing Soviet-era Sukhoi Su-17M3s which have reached, or are near, airframe life limits.

Russia has been asking the Ukrainian authorities for permission to reinforce naval aviation units based in Crimea for several years. Ukraine has consistently refused to accept the basing of Su-24s on its soil as they can be armed with nuclear weapons, violating Ukraine's non-nuclear status.

A Russian navy programme to remove parts of the Su-24's stores management system has been proposed, but Ukraine had until recently rejected this approach on the basis that it would only take around 5h to reinstall the capability.

Informed sources in the Russian military have noted that some Ukrainian air force tactical aircraft also retain a nuclear-strike capability. Permission has been granted by Ukrainian prime minister Victor Yushchenko. The move is the latest in a easing of strained relations between Russia and Ukraine. Late last year the latter began to return Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95 Bear strategic bombers stranded since the break up of the Soviet Union.

Source: Flight International