Lt. Gen. Flynn and Volga Dnepr Airlines

On March 16 Yahoo! News Michael Isikoff reported that the speakers bureau for then retired Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) chief, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, was paid $45,000 for Flynn’s appearance at RT TV’s 10th anniversary gala in Moscow. In reality, the speaking fee after Washington D.C.-based Leading Authorities Inc. collected a 25% commission was $33,750.00. In addition to meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin and speaking on RT regarding the necessity of U.S.-Russian cooperation against ISIS in Syria, Flynn spoke to two Russian companies in 2015. One, Kaspersky Government Solutions, is a cyber security firm and subsidiary of Kaspersky Lab North America, rather than the parent conglomerate founded by the Moscow-based Evgeny Kaspersky. The other, Volga Dnepr Airlines, is familiar to the Russia Analyst from a previous career posting. One of our corporate clients when we worked in the financial services industry worked with VDA as well as their competitor, Voronezh, Russia-based Polet Russian Airlines, in the inherently oligopolistic, global heavy airlift market. A marketplace where, due to the relative scarcity of the resource involved and the small number of players even scattered from Houston to Dubai and Singapore to Rotterdam, almost everybody knows everyone else.

While the threat of cybercrime and hacking from the former Soviet countries is real and it takes former Russian hackers of Kaspersky and its partners to help ‘white hats’ identify ‘black hat’ tricks of the trade, the reasons why VDA paid Flynn $11,500 as a prominent retired general are less well known. However, once VDA’s publicized niche in the air cargo industry and specifically contracting with the oil and gas as well as post 9/11 defense industries is explained, VDA paying Flynn $11,500 to speak to its employees appears far less a matter of alleged Russian government influence operations and more a mundane ‘encouraging Flynn to keep up with Pentagon contacts/business development’ practice in the aerospace industry. In this respect, VDA’s prominence in US Department of Defense contracting is more an outgrowth of the ‘global war on terrorism’ and the limited capacity of the U.S. and NATO to support operations in Afghanistan and Iraq using only dedicated military airlifters like the C-17 and aging jumbo C-5 fleet.

However, it is a fact that Moscow shrewdly leveraged its geostrategic position and companies like VDA, its Voronezh-based competitor Polet Russian Airways, and the partially state owned Russian Railways corporation to reach logistics agreements with Washington during the 2009-2012 ‘Reset’ era in U.S-Russia relations under President Barack Obama. Given the problems with corruption and occasional Haqqani network jihadist militant attacks on chartered NATO trucking convoys across the Durand Line’s tribal areas, the Northern Supply Route through Russia and the so-called ‘Stans became an important part of sustaining the U.S. troop surge into Afghanistan executed by Gen. David Petraeus. Not coincidentally, NATO’s supply base in Ulyanovsk, Russia which was closed in 2015 after Cold War 2.0 started over Ukraine and Syria was in the same city as VDA’s headquarters. This was around the same period, according to Bulgarian [likely U.S. government subsidized] radio station operator (and Trump-hating semi-professional EU/NATO troll) Christo Grozev that the Pentagon suspended its contracting with VDA after over 13,000 flights between 2002 and 2015 involving the company, including under the auspices of US TRANSCOM and the United Nations.  

The long and extensive contractual relations between the U.S. government and VDA is important background in terms of explaining why Flynn saw no contradiction between having been a former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency and accepting VDA’s coin. In fact many if not most of VDA’s senior employees in the USA, like Houston-based executive Colon Miller, are retired military airlift pilots or logistics specialists, an easily Internet searchable fact Grozev omits from his March 17, 2017 blog post. The now retired executive that this author used to know and work with as a financial services client worked primarily not with VDA but its competitor Polet, yet was familiar with the American executives in VDA’s suburban Houston area offices in The Woodlands, Texas. From Flynn’s perspective any U.S. troop surge into Iraq and possibly northeastern Syria to help secure Mosul and retake the Euphrates Valley from the Islamic State would likely require the assistance of VDA’s big fleet of chartered Antonovs. We know from his public statements on Al-Jazeera (another foreign funded network Flynn insists he was never directly paid to speak on) that Flynn was deeply frustrated with the Obama Administration’s go slow policy against ISIS in the predominantly Sunni Muslim Syraq border region.

Although Flynn went to Russia as a private citizen claiming only to speak for himself, it is not unreasonable to speculate that the Russians around Putin saw Flynn as representing a growing faction of active duty and retired officers disaffected with the Obama Administration’s half-assed if not partially fake campaign against ISIS. Certainly the Iraqi military, funded by the American taxpayer, uses both American and Russian hardware in its counter-ISIS operations now liberating Mosul and most of Anbar province from the terrorist group. The fastest way to get a new Russian BMP or Hind gunship to Iraqi forces is of course, to fly it straight to Baghdad from the factory in Russia. And that’s where the big Antonovs come in, since US C-5s or dedicated cargo 747-400s may not be suitable for flying direct from Russia to Iraq or Afghanistan where the Russian choppers are needed. These are of course, the same Pentagon contracts with Russia’s Rosboronexport arms exporter that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and others have tried unsuccessfully to abolish since the start of the second Cold War in 2013-14.

While in the Russia Analyst’s personal opinion it was a great gift to his haters for Donald J. Trump to make Flynn U.S. National Security Adviser, given the inevitable questions that would come up surrounding his paid trip to Moscow, Trump is not wrong to have trusted Flynn or sought his advice. If Flynn’s loyalties can be questioned due to his speaking to VDA or addressing Putin face to face once, should we also start a witch hunt against every U.S. Ambassador or official who has ever met with Putin, even when recordings or minutes were kept by U.S. Embassy aides? To satisfy the current Russophobia among Democrats and McCainiac Republicans on Capitol Hill, shall we insist on a McCarthyistic purge of federal agencies ranging from the Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State to USAID that have all leased VDA’s big bodied jets over the past fifteen years? In the case of VDA, despite recent reports that U.S. TRANSCOM had placed the company on a blacklist for flying Sukhoi jets to Vietnam or some other action deemed contrary to American interests, the lack of competitors and alternatives keeps Uncle Sam coming back. Herein we see the contradictions between maintaining a global military empire that requires Soviet designed, Russian or former Warsaw Pact country made hardware at reasonable expense for the American stood up Iraqi and Afghan militaries. Much like the complicated relations between Russia and Israel, we see on this subject a topic the Russia haters on Capitol Hill and neocon ideologues who formerly infested the Department of Defense under G.W. Bush and Obama’s presidencies such as Victoria Nuland or Evelyn Farkas would rather avoid. Because ultimately if the U.S. cut off all commercial contacts with VDA or Polet tomorrow, how would the Iraqi military get their Mi-24 or Mi-28 gunships to fight ISIS with? And if the Russian Antonov fleets whither on the vine, how do you fly the Russian rocket engines NASA remains dependent on for its launch program from Russia to Cape Canaveral?

That’s not to say that politics aside, there aren’t other problems for the U.S. government’s continued ability to charter VDA’s fleet [as of 2015] that includes 10 An-124 and 5 Ilyushin-76 airlifters. For one thing, the air frames were built during the mid to late 1980s or early 1990s and are approaching the end of their extendable service lives in the next several years. The original production line in Ukraine was moribund even before the so-called Maidan revolution in Kiev aka the U.S./NATO backed Ukraine coup of February 2014. Despite cheery public relations from Antonov (including an order from India for much smaller jets Kiev will likely be unable to fulfill on time and under budget, much like Thailand’s failing contract for Ukrainian Oplot tanks) there is little indication Ukrainian aerospace industry can be revived sufficiently to reopen the An-124 line, much less create a new super heavy airlift jet. That is, unless big global players like China or India are ready to invest. But that in turn raises the question of whether American taxpayer subsidies intended by the likes of Sens. McCain and Graham to keep Ukraine’s Antonov production line alive could wind up contributing to the next jumbo jet for the Chinese People’s Liberation or Indian Armies. Nonetheless, with no C-5 successor yet revealed and the Airbus A380 design not suitable for shorter or most military base runways, super heavy airlift including via sea skimming ekranoplans that allow for the rapid deployment of anti-ship or anti-air missiles and troops to strategic locations like China’s fortified islands in the South China Sea is a natural area of Eurasian industrial cooperation.

Aside from U.S. taxpayer subsidies ultimately benefiting Rosboronexport’s contracts with the Iraqi and Afghan militaries, there is another unintended irony of Christo Grozev’s article attacking the integrity of Lt. Gen. Flynn for doing business with a company then under a DoD blacklist for working with Rosboronexport.  And it’s one that will be increasingly evident once American special forces and regular military reach Raqqa, and discover to use a technical term a shitload of Soviet bloc-type arms from NATO member Bulgaria shipped to Qatar, Saudi Arabia or less recently Turkey that mysteriously found their way to the Islamic State’s stronghold on the Euphrates. Mr. Grozev, being a neocon shill, will naturally deny that his country’s arms manufacturers indirectly through NATO’s Sunni Persian Gulf state allies armed the Islamic State, and perhaps join the chorus of others linked to him online insisting that perhaps the Assad government, Iran or the Russians themselves arranged for recent vintage NATO arms to be found by the Americans at ISIS abandoned ammo dumps in Raqqa.