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Document Friday: Moldovian MiGs for Sale! Get ‘Em While They’re Hot!

October 8, 2010


A Yugoslav MiG-29


Interested in buying a nuclear-capable Soviet MiG-29 bomber from a former Soviet republic at a bargain basement price?  Well if so, have I got the hot doc for you!  It’s a secret 22 September 1997 State Department Cable sent from the American Embassy in Moldova to the Office of the Secretary of State.  It informed the Secretary that the Embassy that Moldovan officials were shopping 27 MiGs, and suggested that the US snap them up before another (rouge?) state did.  It reminds me a bit of the fictional Lord or War (Nick Cage’s character is based upon Oleg Orlov) and the contemporaneous “Merchant of Death,” Viktor Bout


Document Hounds, note the REFTEL... we've already MDRed it. Also, the grayed text is text that was originally redacted, but released on appeal.


The memo states that a US citizen, Michael R. Spak, approached Todd Stewart, the US Ambassador to Moldova and tried to broker a deal between the two nations for the MiGs.  Ambassador Stewart reported that he had “positive recollections” of the businessman Spak when they were both “former [Three letters redacted] employees.”  (Public information quickly confirms that they were both CIA employees.  Over-secrecy is alive and well.)   Essentially, Spak wanted to act as the middleman and broker the US-Moldovian MiG sale and get a (reported 9 million dollar) cut for his efforts.

The Ambassador wisely pointed out to the businessman Spak that “the broker’s commission would either increase the price paid by the USG [US government], reduce the proceeds received by the Moldovan Government, or both.”  Behold the magic of the military-industrial-intelligence complex.


Smirnov usually drives around Transnistria in a Skoda, without bodyguards.


Interestingly, ex-CIA agent Spak was also contacted by a Russian general in Transnistria who asked him to sell Russian materiel to the US government.  Transnistria broke away from Moldova in the early 1990s and claims independence; in 2002 the European Parliament described Transnistria as “a black hole in which illegal trade in arms, the trafficking in human beings, and the laundering of criminal finance was carried on.”  (Fun Fact:  Transnistria is ruled by Igor Smirnov, a 65-year-old former Russian baker, who is known to Transnistians as “Santa Claus” due to his white beard and jovial demeanor.)  This cable does not state if anything came to fruition from Spak’s Transnistrian connections.

But the US did eventually buy 21 MiG-29 bombers from the Moldovan Government.  The US feared that if they did not snap them up, they would “fall into the wrong [read: Iranian] hands.”  (Iran sent a team to inspect them.)  Also, six of the twenty-seven fighters had already been sold to Yemen.  (Again, information about Iran’s interest in the MiGs, as well as their sale to Yemen is available publicly, but was –in all likelihood– over-redacted near the end of this document.)

The US hailed the purchase as a victory against proliferation and transported the planes to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.  The process was a long one: the MiGs were stripped down and squeezed into C-17 Globemaster III transports —two at a time! A couple of them were even later reassembled and flown.

Captain Michael Davidson, who led the team which transported the MiGs to the US, told Airman Magazine, “When the last MiG was loaded in Moldova, the base commander there, who was this bear of man, turned his head away and cried. It was tough to watch. The MiG pilots knew it was best for their country, but they were sad to see them go.” Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Oh, and Moldova reneged on its promise to pay Spak nine million dollars for brokering the deal.  He sued the Moldovan government in a DC court… and lost.

The Moldovans, for their part, now use the internet –not ex-CIA agents– to sell their wares.  A Moldovan airport’s website now advertises that six more MiG-29s are up for sale.  Any takers?

  1. October 11, 2010 9:55 am

    My mouth is watering at the thought of being able to buy one of these jets as a ciivilian. I wonder if these jets have a better safety record than those that the Russians unsuccessfully flew at a couple of Airshows.


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