Russia’s hot air defences

Deep in the Russian countryside, the grass sways in a late-summer breeze. In the distance, the sun glistens off the golden spires of a village church. It is, to all appearances, a typically Russian scene of imperturbable rural tranquillity. Until a sleek MIG-31 fighter jet suddenly appears in a field, its muscular, stubby wings spreading to reveal their trademark red star insignia. A few moments later, a missile launcher pops up beside it. Cars on a nearby road pull over, the drivers gaping in amazement at what appear to be fearsome weapons, encountered so unexpectedly in this serene spot. And then, as quickly as they appeared, the jet and missile launcher vanish. “If you study the major battles of history, you see that trickery wins every time,” Aleksei A. Komarov, the military engineer in charge of this sleight of hand, said with a sly smile. “Nobody ever wins honestly.”  Mr. Komarov oversees military sales at Rusbal, a hot air balloon company that also provides the Ministry of Defense with one of Russia’s lesser-known military threats: a growing arsenal of inflatable tanks, jets and missile launchers, including the MIG in the field. At a factory behind high concrete walls not far from here, workers toiling in secret with little more than sewing machines and green fabric are churning out the ultimate in soft power: decoys that appear lifelike from as close as 300 yards and can pop up and then vanish in mere minutes”.

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