MOSCOW, RUSSIA – The Kremlin on Wednesday sounded the alarm bells about the theft of sensitive equipment from a secret “doomsday plane” designed for the country’s top command in the event of a nuclear attack.
Interior Ministry said police in the southern city of Taganrog were alerted that 1 million rubles (US $ 13,600) of equipment was stolen from an Ilyushin Il-80 plane on an airfield.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the violation an “emergency” and pledged that “measures will be taken to prevent this from happening in the future”.
The Home Office did not say what was stolen but said investigators had been dispatched to the scene.
The port city of Taganrog, more than 1,100 kilometers south of Moscow, is home to the troubled state-controlled Beriev Aircraft Company.
The Interior Ministry and Beriev declined to comment when contacted by AFP.
But the Kremlin-friendly REN-TV broadcaster reported earlier this week that radio equipment was taken from an Il-80 plane undergoing maintenance in Taganrog.
Thieves opened the plane’s cargo hatch and shoes and fingerprints were found inside the plane, 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 which was made public on Wednesday.
Citing a source, he said officials with access to the airfield could be behind the high-profile theft.
“CLASSIFIED DATA LEAKAGE”
The stolen plane is one of four flying command centers built to evacuate the president and other senior officials and issue orders in the event of a nuclear explosion.
Based on the Ilyushin Il-86 airliner, the first Russian aircraft of this type was said to have flown in 1985.
The planes are designed to withstand electromagnetic pulses and are nearly windowless to prevent crew and passengers from being blinded by the effects of a nuclear explosion.
Military experts said the theft was no ordinary incident and emphasized the logistics of protecting highly classified material.
Military expert Mikhail Khodarenok said the Soviet-era radio equipment of the Il-80 was most likely targeted for its scrap value – a common occurrence in Russia.
Writing on the Gazeta.ru news portal, Khodarenok said the incident was significant because it constituted a “highly classified data breach.”
“Heads will roll,” said Vasily Kashin, a military expert at the Moscow School of Economics.
But he cautioned that it was important not to overstate the national security importance of “theft of old Soviet-era scrap.”
“We don’t know the condition of this plane,” Kashin told AFP.
Another military expert, Pavel Felgenhauer, said the loss of Soviet-era equipment would likely have rendered the aircraft unusable.
Last year, Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko said work was being done to modernize the Il-80s.
The United States operates similar flying command centers called the E-4B Nightwatch and based on the Boeing 747s.