The Soviet-era TU-160 bomber or "White Swan" was rescued from the Gorbunov factory in Kazan, and overseen by Putin

The White Swan, Russia's new nuclear threat

En esta captura tomada de un material publicado en la cuenta oficial de Telegram de la oficina de prensa presidencial rusa (@news_kremlin), el presidente de Rusia, Vladimir Putin (derecha), toma un vuelo en un Tupolev Tu-160M - AFP/ OFICINA DE PRENSA PRESIDENCIAL DE RUSIA
photo_camera In this screenshot taken from footage posted on the official Telegram account of the Russian presidential press office (@news_kremlin), Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) takes a flight in a Tupolev Tu-160M - AFP/PRESS OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA

The drift of the Russian Navy is taking shape and the rescue of the "White Swan" known as the "Flying Monster" is yet another sign of the consequences of the war with Ukraine. 

  1. Characteristics of the "White Swan"
  2. Demonstration of power as a smokescreen

The appearance of this new bomber has set off alarm bells in the United States and its allies because of its nuclear range. The rescue of this nuclear bomber has been the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg that began with the refit of the Admiral Pavel Nakhimov. 

The war against Ukraine has become a war of attrition, a trench war that is stretching the Russian machine to the limit. The fruits of the Ukrainians' efforts are beginning to undermine Russian attacks which, while having the same effects, are increasingly costly for the Russian economy. Two years of war are taking their toll on the Russian economy. 

El portamisiles estratégico ruso Tu-160M ​​en la fábrica de aviación de Kazán, que lleva el nombre de Sergei Gorbunov, una sucursal de la empresa de industria militar Tupolev, en Kazán, Rusia, el 21 de febrero de 2024 - SPUTNIK/KRISTINA KORMILITSYNA via REUTERS
Russian strategic missile carrier Tu-160M at the Kazan aviation factory named after Sergei Gorbunov, a branch of the Tupolev military industry company, in Kazan, Russia, February 21, 2024 - SPUTNIK/KRISTINA KORMILITSYNA via REUTERS

Russian media are echoing the image of President Vladimir Putin at the controls of the bomber. In an interview on state television, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the flight lasted 40 minutes. 

Characteristics of the "White Swan"

The TU-160 fighter jet is designed to strike long-range targets in isolated areas with conventional and nuclear weapons. These bombers form an important part of Moscow's long-range capabilities. 

El presidente ruso Vladimir Putin firma una fotografía de un bombardero nuclear TU-160M ​​durante una visita a la fábrica de aviación Gorbunov en Kazán, Rusia, el 25 de enero de 2018 - SPUTNIK/ALEXEI NIKOLSKY via REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin signs a photograph of a TU-160M nuclear bomber during a visit to the Gorbunov aviation factory in Kazan, Russia, January 25, 2018 - SPUTNIK/ALEXEI NIKOLSKY via REUTERS

The aircraft first flew in December 1981 and was the last strategic bomber used by the Russian military during the Cold War, with Russian authorities resuming production in 2015. The new version of the Tu-160 was launched in 2017 and made its maiden flight in early 2018. 

El bombardero estratégico Tupolev Tu-160M ​​Ilya Muromets en Kazán el 22 de febrero de 2024 - AFP/DMITRY AZAROV
The Tupolev Tu-160M Ilya Muromets strategic bomber in Kazan on 22 February 2024 - AFP/DMITRY AZAROV

In 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to build a new strategic aircraft based on the "White Swan" design and commissioned the plant's management to implement this complex technological process, while preserving the previous form of the aircraft's structure. 

The bomber, together with the TU-160M bombers, forms the basis of the Russian Aerospace Forces' long-range aircraft. The TU-160M is designed to attack enemy targets at long range using nuclear and conventional weapons. It was upgraded in two stages, with the first stage removing some existing systems, such as the bomb targeting system, and installing the new K-042K-1 navigation and autopilot system. 

El presidente ruso Vladimir Putin se prepara para volar en un bombardero estratégico Tupolev Tu-160M ​​en Kazán el 22 de febrero de 2024 - AFP/DMITRY AZAROV
Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to fly in a Tupolev Tu-160M strategic bomber in Kazan on February 22, 2024 - AFP/DMITRY AZAROV

The aircraft is equipped with a new-generation NK-32-02 atmospheric engine, which allows it to fly at an altitude of 16,000 metres and a distance of 13,000 km. 

Russia's "White Swan" is also equipped with the new Novella NV1.70 radar, a "computer-controlled glass" cockpit, modern communications equipment, anti-jamming equipment, modern conventional weapons and nuclear weapons as part of the bomber's radio. 

With a crew of four, the TU-160 can carry up to 12 X-101 cruise missiles with conventional warheads (high-explosive, cluster, high-explosive and X-102 nuclear). 

Un avión cisterna ruso Il-78, un bombardero estratégico Tu-160 y aviones de combate MiG-31 vuelan en formación durante un ensayo para un vuelo aéreo, parte de un desfile militar que marca el aniversario de la victoria - REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA
A Russian Il-78 tanker, a Tu-160 strategic bomber and MiG-31 fighter jets fly in formation during a rehearsal for an aerial flyover, part of a military parade marking the anniversary of victory - REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA

Demonstration of power as a smokescreen

In the current Russian context where the recent death of Alexei Navalny and the international crisis that Russia has been going through since the beginning of the "special military operation", the smokescreen is that, in the absence of means, the Kremlin has decided to repair and condition all the arsenal it possesses, in a context where elections have already begun with the first early voting since the CEC (Central Electoral Commission) informed that the most remote populations can begin to cast their votes. 

By definition, a smokescreen is a set of facts or circumstances designed to hide the truth and distract people. In other words, it focuses the frame on something so that other things are forgotten or overlooked. 

El presidente ruso Vladimir Putin se reúne con periodistas después de volar en un bombardero estratégico Tupolev Tu-160M ​​en Kazán el 22 de febrero de 2024 - AFP/ALEXANDER KAZAKOV
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with journalists after flying a Tupolev Tu-160M strategic bomber in Kazan on February 22, 2024 - AFP/ALEXANDER KAZAKOV

Most Western experts agree that transparency is not a hallmark of the Eurasian giant's electoral process, even by the admission of regional allies such as China. Sweden's V-Dem institute gave election transparency a score of 0.25 on a scale of 0 to 10. Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Russia 138th, the worst in Europe. 

The Levada Centre, a non-governmental organisation that conducts opinion polls, said President Putin's approval rating exceeded 80%. The attack gave Putin a nationalist message that mobilised Russians, and the war maintained broad support even as Russia's military campaign waned in 2023. 

El presidente de Rusia, Vladimir Putin, revisa las tropas navales mientras asiste al principal desfile naval que marca el Día de la Armada Rusa, en San Petersburgo el 31 de julio de 2022 - AFP/OLGA MALTSEVA
Russian President Vladimir Putin reviews naval troops as he attends the main naval parade marking Russian Navy Day in St Petersburg on 31 July 2022 - AFP/OLGA MALTSEVA

As elections approach, national security is a top priority for Russians. Ukraine's attacks on areas bordering Russia have made the war feel like home to many of its citizens, but support for a so-called 'special military operation' invasion remains strong.