Russia investigates doomsday plane theft: heads will roll

The Ministry did not specify what was stolen but said that the investigators sent to the place (Representational)

Moscow:

On Wednesday, the Kremlin raised the alarm for the theft of sensitive equipment from a secret “doomsday plane” designed to command the country’s top command in the event of a nuclear attack.

The Interior Ministry said police in the southern city of Taganrog had been alerted that 1 million rubles ($ 13,600) worth of equipment was stolen from an Ilyushin Il-80 plane at an airfield.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the breach as an “emergency situation” and promised that “steps will be taken to prevent this from happening in the future.”

The Interior Ministry did not specify what was stolen, but said investigators had been dispatched to the scene.

The port city of Taganrog, more than 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) south of Moscow, is home to the Beriev Aircraft Company, a troubled state-controlled company.

Both the Interior Ministry and Beriev declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

But the Kremlin-compatible television channel REN-TV reported earlier this week that radio equipment was seized from an Il-80 plane that was undergoing maintenance in Taganrog.

The thieves opened the aircraft’s cargo hatch and shoes and fingerprints were found inside the aircraft, the channel said, adding that Beriev reported the theft to police last week.

The channel said 12 people had been questioned as part of the investigation that was made public Wednesday.

Citing a source, he said officials with access to the airfield could be behind the high-profile theft.

‘Classified data leak’

The stolen plane is one of four flying command centers built to evacuate the president and other top officials and issue commands in the event of a nuclear explosion.

Based on the Ilyushin Il-86 airliner, the first Russian aircraft of this type is believed to have flown in 1985.

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Airplanes are designed to withstand electromagnetic pulses and have almost no windows to prevent crew and passengers from being blinded by the effects of a nuclear blast.

Military experts said the theft was no ordinary incident and underscored the logistics of protecting highly classified hardware.

Military expert Mikhail Khodarenok said the Il-80’s Soviet-era radio equipment was likely a target for its scrap value, a common sight in Russia.

Writing on the Gazeta.ru news portal, Khodarenok said the incident was significant because it constituted a “highly classified data leak.”

“Heads will roll,” said Vasily Kashin, a military expert at the Moscow Higher School of Economics.

But he cautioned that it was important not to overstate the importance of “Soviet-era junk theft” to national security.

“We do not know the status of that plane,” Kashin told AFP.

Another military expert, Pavel Felgenhauer, said that the loss of Soviet-era equipment would likely have rendered the plane useless.

Last year, Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko said that work was underway to modernize the Il-80s.

The United States operates similar flight command centers called E-4B Nightwatch, based on Boeing 747s.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)

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