Mystery shrouds Russia’s so-called “doomsday” planes – military aircraft intended for use by the president and top officials as an airborne command centre in the event of nuclear war.
But despite the secrecy and security surrounding Russia’s fleet of four of the Ilyushin-80 planes, thieves have managed to break into one of them and make off with valuable equipment.
According to police, one million rubles (£10,225) worth of radio kit was plundered in the raid, at an airfield in the southwestern port city of Taganrog.
The thieves got in through the aircraft’s cargo hatch, “and shoe and fingerprints were found inside” by investigators, The Moscow Times reports. The newspaper adds that according to insider sources, “officials with access to the airfield could be behind the high-profile theft”, which was made public yesterday.
A total of 12 people have reportedly been questioned as part of the government’s probe.
The Interior Ministry has declined to comment on the theft beyond saying that police had been made aware of the crime. However, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson described the breach as an “emergency situation”, adding: “Measures will be taken to prevent this from happening in the future.”
Vasily Kashin, a military expert at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, told reporters that “heads will roll” over the break-in.
Kashin played down the potential national security implications, however. “We don’t know the condition of that plane,” he said, adding that the loss of equipment may amount to the “theft of old Soviet-era metal scrap”.
All the same, “the incident raises questions about the security of Russian military facilities in a period of renewed tensions with the West”, says Bloomberg.
The importance of such security has been underlined by reports that the Kremlin is developing a third-generation version of its “doomsday” planes that is expected to enter service by 2025.