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Putin Has a Problem: His Best Fighter Jets Keep Crashing Into Apartment Buildings

Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Why do Russian fighter jets keep crashing into apartment buildings?

A Russian fighter jet crashed into an apartment building on Sunday in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, killing both pilots, Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry said. It’s the second time in less than a week that a Russian warplane crashed into a residential area, resulting in fatalities.

“The Su-30 crashed into a private wooden apartment building during a test flight,” the ministry said in a Sunday statement, adding that there were no civilian casualties. It said the crash caused a 2,150-square-foot-large fire, noting that “at the moment, open fire has been eliminated.”

Video footage that was published to Russian state media appears to show the warplane plummet in a nose dive before falling behind a row a trees, where it exploded in a massive fireball. A slightly longer video published to social media by a Ukrainian journalist also appears to capture the incident. Insider was unable to immediately verify the footage.

The deadly crash occurred in southern Russia’s Irkutsk, a city of just under 620,000 residents not far from the country’s border with Mongolia.

The Washington Post reported that local authorities declared a state of emergency in the district where the crash occurred, and Russia’s state-owned aerospace company United Aircraft Corporation will investigate the incident.

Sunday’s crash in Russia is the second fatal incident involving a Russian warplane in less than a week. On October 17, a Russian Su-34 strike fighter caught fire during a training mission and crashed into a residential building in western Russia’s port city of Yeysk.


A Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber fires missiles during the Aviadarts competition, as part of the International Army Games 2021, at the Dubrovichi range outside Ryazan, Russia August 27, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Russia Su-34 Ukraine

Russia’s Su-34 fighter-bomber. Image Credit: Creative Commons.


Su-34 fighter from Russian Air Force. Image Credit: Creative Commons.


Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber. Image Credit: Creative Commons.


Russian Su-34. Image Credit: Russian Military.

At least 13 people were killed in the accident, which led Russian authorities to say that the two pilots — who managed to eject from the aircraft before it crashed — could face criminal charges.

Though military accidents happen regularly, crashes in residential areas are less common, as professional, modern militaries tend to have procedures in place to avoid this kind of incident.

The deadly incidents seem to point to problems within Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military at home, problems that come as his forces continue to face battlefield setbacks and suffer substantial losses abroad in Ukraine. Some casualty estimates for the Russian military in Ukraine are as high as 90,000.

Ukrainian troops are advancing along the war’s eastern front and also pushing toward the key southern city of Kherson, an early Russian win which has been under Russian occupation since the early days of the war.

Russian officers and medics are reported to have evacuated, leaving many inexperienced and newly drafted soldiers — who have complained that they are ill-equipped — with the task of defending the city from the advancing Ukrainian forces.

Last week, Russia began frantically started to move tens of thousands of civilians out of the city, signaling an expectation of intense urban warfare.

In addition to high casualty counts and losses of territory, Russian forces have also lost a significant number of armored vehicles, including some of its modern tanks. Some Russian vehicles captured by Ukraine have actually been put back into service while the Russian army has at times had to pull old, obsolete vehicles out of storage.

As Russian troops falter on the front lines, Putin’s forces, which are running low on long-range precision guided munitions, have in recent weeks become increasingly reliant on the use of Iranian-made suicide drones — identified as the Shahed-136 type — for Blitz-style attacks on civilians and infrastructure targets across Ukraine.

“Russia is likely expending a high number of Iranian Shahed-136 UAVs in order to penetrate increasingly effective Ukrainian air defences,” Britain’s defense ministry said in a Monday intelligence update. “It is likely using them as a substitute for Russian-manufactured long-range precision weapons which are becoming increasingly scarce.”

Jake Epstein is a Junior Breaking News Reporter on the Speed Desk, based in Boston. He focuses on military, defense, and security issues. Prior, he worked at The Times of Israel, freelanced in the Boston area, and interned at CBS Boston. He graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism and international relations in May 2020. At Lehigh, he was the editor in chief of the independent student newspaper The Brown and White. This first appeared in Insider. 

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Jake Epstein is a Junior Breaking News Reporter on the Speed Desk, based in Boston.