The Tu-160, affectionately known as the White Swan, is the world’s heaviest and fastest supersonic bomber. Designed by the Soviet Union, this aircraft can fly around the globe, reach heights of 20km above the earth, and carry a maximum payload of 45 tons, including a dozen Kh-55 nuclear missiles. The Russian military currently possesses 16 White Swans (Tu-160 supersonic bombers) and has employed them as a strategic advantage in escalating tensions with the West.
A general has revealed that Russia is repurposing missiles that were returned to them in the 1990s under a treaty meant to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and use them against Ukraine. These missiles have been found in the rubble.#Russia #Ukraine #missile pic.twitter.com/B9T9aJELGj
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) January 12, 2023
In recent years, these aircraft have been used for provocative acts such as flying over the North Pole to breach US and Canadian airspace, landing in Venezuela, and launching cruise missiles at Syria. Since last March, the White Swans have been causing chaos in Ukraine. They operate from an airbase near Saratov, a city located on the Volga River, and launch non-nuclear missiles without entering Ukraine’s airspace. An unexpected revelation is that half of Russia’s White Swans were once Kyiv’s – similar to the hundreds of missiles they can now carry.
Barack Obama’s Visit
“During my first trip abroad in 2005, I observed piles of conventional weapons being dismantled,” said Senator Barack Obama, then-newly elected United States senator from Illinois. As a senator, the future President visited the Eastern Ukrainian city that would later become a pro-Russian separatism hotbed and secured $48m to destroy a further 400,000 small arms, 1,000 portable anti-aircraft missiles, and 15,000 tons of ammunition.
Obama’s trip to Ukraine was included in Western efforts to either have Ukraine dismantle its Cold War-era weapon stockpiles or transfer them to Russia. Vaganov, who had fled a decade prior, escaped the Russian-backed separatist conflict in Donetsk and, in March, just narrowly survived the Russian siege of Mariupol. “I was expecting death to come; I had half-suicidal thoughts,” said Vaganov in an interview with Al Jazeera, explaining how Obama and his wife, Iryna, endured Russian air raids in their ice-cold apartment, with windows broken by shelling.
Western Pressure against Moscow
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in Kyiv inheriting a massive arsenal, including nuclear weapons, and 19 White Swans stationed at the Priluky Air Base in Northern Ukraine. Moscow had only two strategic bombers like this, but maintaining them was no longer necessary after Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, under Western pressure, “returned” thousands of nuclear warheads to Russia.
The United States was understandably worried about the nuclear weapons in the 15 new nations that emerged from the USSR, as they were undergoing challenging economic transitions and, in many cases, political uncertainty. “It’s important to remember the pressure the US exerted on post-Soviet nations to transfer all the carriers of nuclear weapons to Russia,” said Igar Tyshkevich, a Kyiv-based analyst, in an interview with Al Jazeera.
In 1991, Kyiv announced that it would dispose of all its heavy bombers, the missiles these planes could carry, and the airfield equipment used to maintain them within a decade. Washington provided the means for the elimination of 11 White Swans, 27 smaller Tu-95s, almost 500 air-launched cruise missiles, 130 SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missiles, silos, launch-control centers, and 7 million units of small arms, including AK-47 assault rifles and light weapons, which were located in various depots throughout Ukraine.