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Putin sits in on supersonic bomber test flight

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Russian President Vladimir Putin sat in the cockpit of a supersonic strategic bomber during a test flight, the Interfax news agancy has reported.

The plane, a TU-160M, took off from the military airfield in Kazan, and the flight lasted around 30 minutes, according to the Interfax report.

The decision to take part in the flight was made by Putin the day before during a visit to the aircraft factory, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying. Details of the flight were not revealed in advance, because they were classified as a military secret.

After the flight Putin described the bomber as highly modern and reliable. “We are getting new technology, super technology,” he said, and ordered that the bomber should be handed over to the armed forces for active service.

Against the backdrop of his ongoing war in Ukraine, Putin is likely using the flight to project a strong commander-in-chief image to Russians.

In contrast to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has visited the front many times, Putin, who sent 300,000 men to the frontlines in a partial mobilization, has not been there himself, despite the war being nearly two years old.

The strong man image is also likely to bring him a record result in the presidential election in mid-March. Putin wants to be elected to office for the fifth time, and his victory is considered certain, partly because all the authorized opposing candidates either directly support him, or have no political profile. Others have been banned from running.

This is not Putin’s first flight in a military aircraft. The first time was in March 2000 as co-pilot in a Su-27 fighter plane, when he also presented himself as a tough guy – shortly before his first presidential election – against the backdrop of the then ongoing second Chechen war. He later flew in other military jets, including an old TU-160.

The Tupolev TU-160M is the modernised version of the Soviet era TU-160 supersonic aircraft. Russia resumed production of the strategic bomber in 2018. It can be armed with both conventional and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, as well as hypersonic missiles.

The Tupolev Tu-160M "Ilya Muromets" strategic bomber lifts off from the runway of an aircraft manufacturer. -/Kremlin /dpa

The Tupolev Tu-160M “Ilya Muromets” strategic bomber lifts off from the runway of an aircraft manufacturer. -/Kremlin /dpa

The Tupolev Tu-160M "Ilya Muromets" strategic bomber lifts off from the runway of an aircraft manufacturer. -/Kremlin /dpa

The Tupolev Tu-160M “Ilya Muromets” strategic bomber lifts off from the runway of an aircraft manufacturer. -/Kremlin /dpa

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