1989 unmanned Soviet military plane crashes in Belgium

1989 unmanned Soviet military plane crashes in Belgium
1989 unmanned Soviet military plane crashes in Belgium

The incredible story of a crazy plane that crossed the Belgian sky to crash on a farm near Kortrijk and kill a 19-year-old young man. On board the Soviet fighter plane, there is no pilot. Hostile maneuver or simple accident? This air crash is the last – unknown – upheaval of the Cold War. It tells the story of the last 30 years of the Soviet army, which has since become the Russian army: from the decay at the time of the end of the Cold War, to the rebirth after the 2000s, through the drama Kursk and the fall of the USSR.

Tuesday, July 4, 1989, 10:37 a.m. A morning like any other in the Flemish countryside. We are in Kooigem, West Flanders. A little further on, the main road leads to Kortrijk. In the torpor of this summer morning, no one can imagine what will happen in the next few seconds.

A Soviet fighter plane literally falls from the sky, crashes into a house and kills a 19-year-old young man.

The mystery is total: there was no pilot on the plane. So a question arises: is this a hostile maneuver by the Soviet army?

1989: is a hostile Soviet act really imaginable?

We are in 1989 and Mikhail Gorbachev, head of the USSR, is on a diplomatic visit to France. The thaw of the cold war is well underway. A Soviet attack seems unlikely. And yet. This military plane crashed without warning on Belgian soil. And he was armed, because several explosions rang out. From the rubble of Kooigem’s house, emerges the red star, struck on the carcass of the MIG-23.

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Carcass of the MIG-23 which crashed in Kooigem in 1989 © belga

Quickly, the Minister of Defense, Guy Coëme, arrived on site accompanied by journalists. All come from Koksijde, where the army was holding a press conference. At the scene of the crash, the police kept everyone away since the plane – it seemed – was dangerous. Suddenly, the question arises: was he armed with nuclear charges? Obviously no. Where did he come from? East Germany ? Poland? What were his intentions? Was his flight hostile? The shadow of the Cold War still hangs over relations between East and West.

While we still know very little, the Chief of Staff of the army, Lieutenant-General Charlier speaks, in front of the cameras. And the observation he poses is obvious: a hostile maneuver seems unimaginable.

The incredible story of a plane that no one controls

Over the hours, things become clearer. The thread of history is being rewound. This Tuesday morning in July, the plane took off from Kolobrzeg air base, in the People’s Republic of Pologn. In the cockpit, his pilot, Colonel Serguei Skouridine, performs a routine flight. The hunter sped at 300 km / h. It is 300m above sea level. When suddenly, the engine turns off. The pilot receives clearance to eject.

The Baltic Sea is not far away. Before pushing the ejection seat button, the pilot takes care to modify the flight controls. The plane will go north and crash into the sea.

Once the plane is empty, not everything goes as planned. The engine restarts. And the autopilot system takes control: heading west.

But, once the plane is empty, not everything goes as planned. The engine restarts. And the autopilot system takes control: heading west. The crazy plane flies in a straight line towards East Germany, passes the Iron Curtain crosses West Germany, and the Netherlands where it is chased by two American F-15s taking off from the Soesterberg base.

At 10:37 am, the plane was therefore flying in Belgian airspace. Running out of fuel, after a flight of about 900 km, it crashed. And made a victim: the young Wim Delaere, a 19-year-old student.

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DISMANTLING OF USSR © All rights reserved

July 6. From Moscow, facing Soviet cameras, Colonel Serguei Skouridine offers a formal apology. “If I had known what was going to happen, I would have done everything to straighten the device, until the end”, he said on television.

In Paris, Michael Gorbachev – still on a diplomatic visit – also addresses the Belgian people via television. “I regret this incident. The Belgians know the causes of the accident and we have sent them our condolences”.

In the process, the Minister of Defense, Guy Coëme, made a proposal. Install a direct line of communication between Europe and the Soviet Union, a sort of red telephone, like the one between Washington and Moscow. The proposal will be accepted. And will indeed see the light of day.

The fall of the Red Army

Guy Coëme’s proposal was for a telex, more than a Red Line. That said, it will not last long, since a few months later, the Berlin Wall will fall and we will experience a long period of relaxation ”, explains Gérard Gaudin, journalist at the Belga agency and specialist in defense issues. No one at the time can imagine that 2 years later the Soviet Union would collapse.

And yet, the fall of the USSR will precipitate the end of the Red Army. “There was a principle which said that each Soviet republic recovered the Men and the material which was on its territory. This is how, for example, Ukraine took advantage of a largely surplus material, because the western front was over-equipped with material by the Soviets.”.

And for ten years or so, the situation will remain that way: the Red Army has been dislocated, and Russia finds itself with an underfunded, weakened army. “In terms of technology, training, competence, the effectiveness of the chains of command, we have a real dilapidation in the 90s”, Explains Aude Merlin, professor at ULB and specialist in Russia.

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The conning tower of the Kursk nuclear submarine appears at the surface in the port of Roslyakovo, near Murmansk, 23 October 2001 © AFP – PHOTO EPA POOL/STRINGER

In 2000, Vladimir Poutine came to power, in particular on a military program. “He embodies a return to order”, Explains Aude Merlin. “He came to power by surfing, in a way, on the resumption of the war in Chechnya. He embodies the power structures in Russia and their return to the political arena. “

However, a few months later, the Kursk, a dark military submarine in terrible conditions. It is a real failure for Vladimir Putin. The sinking of the Kursk symbolizes, in a certain way, the technical and human failures of the Russian army.

2000s: the rebirth of the Russian army

The takeover of the Russian Army started at that time and was to materialize in 2008, then 2012. New strategies appeared: cyber, interest in the Arctic, the former Soviet republics. The intervention in Syria also showed the technical and technological developments in which the Russian army is engaged. In 20 years, “The Russian army has become more professional,” explains Gérard Gaudin, “investments have resumed. There are new air, land and naval equipment. It has once again become one of the major military players on the international scene. “

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