The Russian President has been raising the possibility of a nuclear strike against any nation which interferes with the invasion of Ukraine. In a speech announcing the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Putin warned: “No matter who tries to stand in our way or…create threats for our country and our people, they must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history.” Three days later, the Kremlin unnerved the international community when it put its nuclear forces on high alert, a move that signaled an apparent readiness to deploy them.
Since then, there has been dozens of provocative threats levelled against the West by Russian state TV and the Kremlin, accompanied by projections of Russia’s nuclear readiness including Putin’s “doomsday plane” and the “nuclear football”.
Russia’s doomsday plane, which is designed to protect Putin in the event of a nuclear attack, has been seen flying over Moscow multiple times since tensions erupted.
The Ilyushin Il-80 plane, also known as “the flying Kremlin”, has no external windows, except in the cockpit, and features a dome that supposedly prevents exposure to electromagnetic pulse attacks.
The aircraft can also be refueled mid-flight, allowing the vehicle to stay in the air for long periods of time.
Reflecting on the doomsday plane sightings, Dr Alexandra Walmsley, defence analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, told Express.co.uk: “I’d like to think it is power projection and intimidation because actually, he is a bully and a thug.
“He crafts his image very carefully for domestic consumption.
“And in the West we are looking at this with astonishment and amazement, but when the media is as controlled as it is in Russia, you’re seeing these very carefully curated images – it’s theatre.”
Russia’s tightly-controlled media space means domestic audiences have been seeing a strikingly different version of events in Ukraine on their TV screens compared to people in the West.
In March, the Kremlin made it illegal to discredit the armed forces or spread “fake” information about the invasion, which they call a “special operation”.
This crackdown on discourse means the Kremlin has been able to control the narrative about the war and pump out images favourable to the administration.
Meanwhile, in the US, a version of the doomsday plane for President Joe Biden was spotted flying over southern California shortly after the Russian model made an appearance.
The E-4B Nightwatch aircraft can be used either in the case of a national emergency or the destruction of command and control centres.
“[Putin’s doomsday plane drills are] part of a strongman projection and that extends to the nuclear football,” Dr Walmsley added.
Putin has been seen attending engagements accompanied by a so-called “nuclear football” – a briefcase that contains the codes needed to launch an atomic strike remotely.
Russia’s nuclear briefcase is known as the cheget and is on hand for the President wherever he goes.
A cheget is also thought to accompany the Minister of Defence and Chief of General Staff.
Dr Walmsley explained that the “theatre” of Putin walking through Red Square with “hulks behind him with briefcases” is designed to exude power.
She added: “It’s image, it’s all image. This is ticking all the boxes for Russian domestic consumption.”
Despite being in control of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals, many Western officials and analysts say they believe Russia has assessed the cost of using nuclear weapons would be prohibitively high.
Instead, Putin is using posturing to reinforce his strongman image in Russia, and to deter the West from becoming more involved in the war in Ukraine.