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Putin puts West on notice with flight on nuclear-capable bomber

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Russian President Vladimir Putin flew on a nuclear-capable strategic bomber on Thursday, in a likely move to flaunt Russia’s nuclear capabilities in defiance of the West.

Moscow said Putin took a brief flight on a modernized Tu-160M bomber, codenamed “Blackjacks” by NATO.

State media showed Putin, 71, taking off in the giant plane from a runway belonging to the factory in Kazan, which makes the supersonic aircraft.

The plane landed less than an hour later, Russian news agency TASS reported. Moscow did not provide specifics on its flight path, which is considered a military secret, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

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Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Kyrgyzstan President Sadyr Japarov in Kazan, Russia. (Sputnik/Sergei Bobylev via Reuters)

The giant swing-wing plane is a modernized version of a Cold War-era bomber owned by the former Soviet Union. While it was not used during the conflict, it would have deployed to deliver weapons at long distances, Reuters reported.

The Tu-160M is capable of carrying 12 cruise missiles or 12 short-range nuclear missiles and can fly approximately 7,500 miles without needing to refuel. It has just four crew members.

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In 2005, the Russian president flew inside another version of the aircraft.

Two bombers in a hangar

Tu-160M strategic missile carriers at the Kazan Aviation Factory in Kazan, Russia. (Sputnik/Kristina Kormilitsyna/Kremlin via Reuters)

Russia signed a contract in 2018, to purchase 10 modernized Tu-160M nuclear bombers. They are expected to be delivered to the Russian Air Force by 2027.

Each bomber cost about $163 million.

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Putin signing a photo

President Vladimir Putin visited the aviation factory in Kazan, Russia,in 2018. (Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via Reuters)

The flight comes just days after opposition politician Alexei Navalny was found dead in his prison cell and as Putin is seeking re-election in the Russian presidential race next month. He is expected to easily win another six-year term.

It also comes as Russia’s military continues to occupy territories in Ukraine amid a war that is nearing its two-year milestone. The war has further worsened already strained relations between the U.S. and Russia, as Washington has accused the Kremlin of cyberattacks and interfering in its elections with misinformation campaigns on social media.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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