Richard North, 21/08/2014  
 

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Pro-Russian separatists have hit two Ukrainian helicopters, downing one, with fire from portable missiles in the Luhansk region, a source within the Ukrainian military has said in confirming a statement by the "South-East Army". It was unclear whether the other crashed.

In addition to that, the Ukrainians are admitting that another Sukhoi Su-25 assault aircraft (pictured top) has been downed. The pilot is said to have ejected, but is reported missing.

This makes for an interesting – and for the Ukrainians alarming - situation as, during the last three weeks, it is asserted that ninety percent of all Ukrainian air force sorties over Donbas ended with a downing of the involved aircraft.

Whatever the exact percentage, it is certainly the case that the Ukrainians are taking losses. The commentator responsible for the 90 percent claim is suggesting that this is because of the availability of BUK to the separatist forces, but that is not necessarily the case.

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What we have seen is that separatists have a ready supply of 9K338 Igla-S MANPADS (NATO reporting name SA-24 Grinch). And what may make these particularly deadly is that they seem to be able launch volleys of the missiles, thus overwhelming the aircraft defences (see picture above).

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But other missile types have also been seen in the area. For instance, there have been reliable reports of a Strela 10 launcher (above) in separatist hands, while a Pantsir-S1 (Nato code SA-22 Greyhound) system has been seen on the Russian side of the border (pic below).

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In a way, it doesn't really matter what precisely is bringing down the Ukrainian aircraft. What's significant is that the Ukrainian forces have effectively lost air supremacy. And, as we have seen so recently in Iraq, without that, defeating an insurgency is immeasurably more difficult.

That may explain the ongoing battle for the small town of Ilovaisk on the outskirts of Donetsk. Variously reported as captured and in separatist hands, it seems to be the focus of intense fighting, with nothing as yet resolved.

However, in what some might regards as the most portentous sign of deteriorating relations, Russia has ordered the temporary closure of all four of the McDonald's restaurants in Moscow.

The decision, made by the state food safety inspectorate is said to have been made over "sanitary violations", and includes the first ever McDonald's in Russia, which the company says is its most frequented in the world.

Its opening in 1990 was hailed as a sign of improving relations with the West, when huge queues formed to embrace its culinary capitalism. By the same measure, the symbolism of the arbitrary closure cannot be ignored.

Obviously, the intensifying shelling is more damaging, but symbols mean a great deal. And there is no way the signs can be made to look good.

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