Putin’s Flight on Tu-160M: A Reminder of Russia’s Nuclear Capabilities

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently took a flight on a modernized Tu-160M nuclear-capable strategic bomber. This move is likely to be seen in the West as a pointed reminder of Moscow's nuclear capabilities. The Tu-160M bomber, code-named "Blackjacks" by NATO, is a modernized 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 distances¹³. State television showed Putin descending from the plane after the flight and telling reporters that it was a reliable and modernized aircraft that could be accepted by the Russian Air Force.


Putin, 71, had previously flown in an older version of the Tu-160 aircraft in 2005 during a training exercise. Under a contract signed in 2018, 10 of the modernized Tu-160M nuclear bombers are meant to be delivered to the Russian Air Force up to 2027 for 15 billion roubles (US$163 million) each. The flight with Putin aboard lasted 30 minutes, and the plane's flight path was kept a military secret. 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 12,000km (7,500 miles) non-stop without refueling.

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This flight comes 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 US 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.


Despite the tensions, Putin, who is the commander-in-chief of Russia’s armed forces, said in October that the existence of the Russian state was not under threat and that “no person of sound mind and clear memory would think of using nuclear weapons against Russia”.

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