President Putin has been playing at being a fly-boy:
President Vladimir Putin, sitting in the pilot’s seat, broke the sound barrier Tuesday as he flew in a long-range bomber to a Northern Fleet outpost to attend a war game similar to one that embarrassed the armed forces last year.
After opening the MAKS 2005 air show at the Zhukovsky airfield, Putin was whisked to the Chkalovsky Air Force Base northeast of Moscow to board a waiting Tu-160 supersonic jet.
Putin sat in the commander’s seat while Khvorov’s deputy, Anatoly Zhikharev, piloted the 275-ton bomber, which can carry nuclear and conventional cruise missiles. Two navigators were also on board.
The plane, named Pavel Taran, broke the sound barrier over the Nizhny Novgorod region and then slowed down to fire a cruise missile at a target. An accompanying Tu-160 also fired a missile.
"I must say that it is a very pleasant feeling," he said on Channel One television. "I think it is similar to how you fly in a dream."
Lyndon at Scraps of Moscow has been all over the story, and the way Putin has been portrayed by the media, and he’s not too happy about it. His biggest conclusion?
NTV is all done as a credible source of information.
Obviously, today’s "flight of the Putin" was a manufactured PR event, but the President was clearly enjoying himself – and the Russian media can clearly no longer tell the difference between a stunt and something that constitutes real news. Perhaps Putin can be excused – after all, he’s just living out the fantasy of every KGB desk officer who fancies himself a warrior, and now that he’s President, the big boys in the armed forces have to let him play with their toys. But it’s hard to excuse the Russian "journalists" who gave this story such fulsome coverage.
Lyndon has more on reactions to the flight here.
As for me, well I’m not going to be quite so critical. Of course it was a PR stunt, but I can see some pretty good reasons for undertaking the flight – particularly in the light of recent military disasters. The rescue of the stranded mini-submarine last week, although creating a feel-good story in many ways, has undermined public confidence in the competency of the Russian military, and the quality of it’s equipment. That the rescue was effected by a foreign (British) rescue vehicle has undermined the Russian people’s pride in their military still further. And that was just the latest in a long string of disasters.
For Putin to fly across country in a military jet shows that the head of State has full confidence in the Russian military’s ability to transport him safely. He is, after all, the most important person in the country and, as President, allegedly has exquisitely good judgement, not to mention a healthy regard for his own self-preservation. So, if he thinks it is safe enough to go flying in a Tu-160, then, the logic goes, it is safe to go flying an a Tu-160. Furthermore, every mother can rest assured that her President is prepared to take any risk that her spotty little son has to take.
Add to that, the fact that a US President can take a flight in a jet fighter but the Russian President can’t, sends a pretty strong negative signal about how the President views his own military.
And, when you consider that the risk of anything happening to Putin is relatively slim – he’s going to be in the Air Force’s best plane, with it’s most experienced pilot – it’s not too risky a decision for him to take.
By the way, does anybody else but me see the remarkable similarity in this picture between Putin and Bush? Take away the nose, and they could be twins…