Hungary gets MiGs from debtor Russia


BUDAPEST, Hungary -- In partial settlement of its Communist-era trade debt to Hungary, Russia has deeded over 28 state-of-the-art MiG-29 fighter jets -- 26 more than the number of Hungarian pilots who know how to fly them.

Even after the Russians train the Hungarians, the planes are unlikely to get much exercise at top speed. Hungary's small territory can be overflown by the supersonic jets in minutes, posing the risk of provocative intrusions into bordering airspace.

The acquisition, which has ruffled some neighboring countries, reflects the insecurity felt by Hungarians, who find themselves poorly defended and surrounded by post-Cold War turmoil.

"This whole region of Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the former Soviet Union is a powder keg," said Lt. Col. Lajos Erdelyi, spokesman for the Defense Ministry, explaining the government decision to acquire the new MiGs. "We don't feel Hungary is threatened by any one nation. It's just in a bad neighborhood."

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