–Viktor Nikolayevich, how quickly did you receive the orders following the Supreme Commander’s instructions to withdraw main forces from Syria?
–Almost instantly, as soon as the whole affair at the Kremlin was over the minister gave the order.
–How did the pilots and technicians respond? How was their mood?
–We are military people. We don’t discuss orders. We are obligated to follow them…
–Before they flew out from Hmeimim back to the Motherland, Deputy Minister of Defense Nikolai Pankov issued decorations to many…
–Right now I can’t say exactly how many were awarded. Because not only pilots and technicians received them, but also other VKS specialists. There were also Ground Forces specialists, Naval Infantry. I issued awards to my people. 242 people. The minister will also issue decorations. Altogether, 500-700 people will receive awards.
–They say it’s pouring rain in Syria now. How does it affect the take-off?
–We have all-weather aircraft and helicopters. And the pilots are used to that. Therefore it’s no big deal. If there’s a thunderstorm during a combat flight, it does pose some danger. But not in this case.
–Are the helicopters leaving too?
–Yes, they will be returned by cargo aircraft.
–Our aircraft are crossing Iranian and Iraqi airspace. We have all the necessary permits?
–It was all done ahead of time, in about one day. While the return flights were being readied. And all the permits were received.
VKS Main Commander Viktor Bondarev
–I called you two days ago when we met our first pilots coming from Syria who were greeted as frontline victors. What were your impressions at that time?
–I was impressed by how our pilots grew up during these five months of combat operations. I’m meeting a captain, a flight leader. And I feel this is not the same captain, the young pilot, who went there five months earlier. He is a hard-core specialist, someone hardened by battlefield conditions, who’s ready to carry out any mission precisely and within the assigned time. I was really moved by how the families greeted out frontline pilots. And it wasn’t just the families, the local people also came to see and celebrate with our pilots. Lots of kids, shouting, joy–it was really impressive.
–We, the journalists, always kept the combat pilots off camera. But now we’ve shown them to the whole Russia. Some are complaining: why reveal them?
–Protecting the pilots is not only the journalists’ task but the state’s as a whole. And we are doing that. We are in the Russian Federation, this is our home. We have nothing and nobody to fear here. We’re ready for anything. Therefore the country should know its heroes.
–How many aircraft already returned to the Motherland?
–Let’s not talk numbers…
–Did the combat pilots’ flying time greatly increase in those five months?
–Of course. I doubt anybody flew a 1,000 hours, but certainly a few hundred.
Su-25 pilot, Senior Lieutenant Aleksandr, was met in Krasnodar by his sister and a communications specialist at his own regiment, Irina. Her husband also flies an Su-25 and will soon return from Syria. Soon they will all be sitting together behind the same table.
–Did anyone receive Sniper Pilot rating?
–Of course. We’ll analyze everything. Depending on individual pilot’s accomplishments, they will receive higher duty positions, higher ratings. And higher ranks.
–When will the withdrawal of main forces end?
–I think it will be over very soon. Within the time limit specified by the Supreme Commander and the Minister of Defense. A few days. The mission will be accomplished in 2-3 days.