Putin sends signal to West with flight on nuclear-capable bomber

  • World
  • Thursday, 22 Feb 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov in Kazan, Russia February 21, 2024. Sputnik/Sergei Bobylev/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin flew on a modernised Tu-160M nuclear-capable strategic bomber on Thursday in a move likely to be seen in the West as a pointed reminder of Moscow's nuclear capabilities.

The giant swing-wing plane, codenamed "Blackjacks" by military alliance NATO, is a modernised version of a Cold War-era bomber that the former Soviet Union would have deployed in the event of nuclear war to deliver weapons at long distances.

Putin, who is expected to easily win another six-year term next month, made the flight at a time when Moscow and the West are at odds over Russia's war in Ukraine and the death in prison of opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

Some Russian and U.S. diplomats say they do not remember a time of worse relations between the world's two biggest nuclear powers, including during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

State TV showed the giant plane taking off from a runway belonging to the factory in Kazan which makes the modernised supersonic aircraft, with correspondent Pavel Zarubin excitedly calling it "a unique event."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the plane's flight path was a military secret, but that the flight with Putin aboard would last up to 40 minutes, TASS state news agency reported.

The Tu-160M, which has a crew of four, is capable of carrying 12 cruise missiles or 12 short-range nuclear missiles and can fly 12,000 km (7,500 miles) non—stop without refuelling.

Putin, 71, flew in an older version of the aircraft in 2005 during a training exercise.

Under a contract signed in 2018, 10 of the modernised Tu-160M nuclear bombers are meant to be delivered to the Russian Air Force at a cost of 15 billion roubles ($163 million) each between now and 2027.

($1 = 92.0330 roubles)

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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