Fifth Russian Air Force crash in a month kills two

A Russian military aircraft has crashed during a training flight in the country's far east killing two people, in what is now the fifth such incident to occur in the Russian air force in the space of a month.

Three different military aircraft crashed in the space of five days last month in separate incidents. A MiG29 "Fulcrum" multirole fighter jet and an Su-34 "Fullback" fighter jet crashed on the same day in different parts of the country due to technical faults in the first week of June. Four days later a Tu-95s "Bear" bomber went down during practice above Siberia, killing one pilot and seriously burning another.

Commenting on the incidents at the time, Russian military expert Igor Sutyagin of the defence think tank Royal United Service Institute (Rusi) said they could be linked to the increased use of Russian aircraft to demonstrate military might.

"This could be an interesting sign of the overstretching of Russian armed capabilities, because the maintenance template for these vehicles does not take into account the much higher operational tempo they have been operating under lately," Sutyagin told Newsweek.

Since then another MiG-29 has gone down above Krasnodarsk in the south of Russia on 3 July, with the reported cause of the emergency being a fire on board. An anonymous security source told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the pilot had ejected and survived, however the jet was completely destroyed on impact. No casualties on the ground were reported.

Now an Su-24M "Fencer" frontal strike-bomber has also gone down in the far east Khabarovskiy region, the Russian Ministry of Defence told state news agency Itar-Tass this afternoon.

According to the Ministry, the Fencer fell in an unpopulated region so no civilians were harmed but both servicemen on board were killed. All Su-24M flights have been grounded, as is the practice after such an incident, until the cause of the crash is determined.

Though not many details have been released about the accident so far, the Ministry of Defence added that the aircraft collided with the ground after a seemingly clean take-off. Remarkably, the fuel tank exploded on impact but none of the full stock of ammunition the Fencer was carrying detonated.

Russia has increased what it calls "patrol flights" in its own skies as well as near European airspace in a bid to show its military capabilities at a time when Moscow and the West's relations have deteriorated over the Ukraine crisis. In March defence minister Sergei Shoygu boasted that Russia could afford to expand these flights, despite EU member states complaining that such unannounced flyovers endanger commercial flights and prompt a record number of Nato air police scrambles.

Much like the Bear, the Fencer aircraft is no stranger to European skies, and last month one was filmed flying around US vessel the USS Ross, while it was in the Black Sea. The video of the incident was posted online by the US navy.

After the series of aircraft crashes last month, Sutyagin warned of the possibility that as a result of expanded flights, Russian aircraft could sustain a crash over European soil as well.

"No one can exclude mishaps on any flying machine especially one that is overexerted," he said "That is why you cannot rule out a mishap such as this happening in European skies."