In December 2022, a Russian military bomber engineer drove to USA’s southwest border and asked for asylum. In exchange, he said he would provide the US government with Russian military secrets.
This story, reported by Yahoo News is based on an unclassified Customs and Border Protection report. The man in question claimed to be worried for his life. He said that he feared persecution for participating in anti-Putin protests. The protests were in support of Alexei Navalny, the man imprisoned by Putin’s government for dissenting with them.
The man claimed to be a civil engineer and said that he worked from 2018 to 2021 making an airplane for the Russian military. The airplane in question? The man (who is still anonymous and is presumed to be in the United States currently) described the airplane as ‘an attack jet’. He called it ‘White Swan- TU160’, the largest military aircraft.
Why is the man’s testimony important? Why is TU-160 worth knowing about and what exactly is it?
The TU-160 is a strategic bomber, which means it can drop large amounts of weaponry from air to ground onto to distant targets. The intent of the TU-160 bomber aircraft is to destabilise one’s enemy. So far, Russia has 11 TU 160s and has been using the Tu-160 bombers in its ongoing operation against Ukraine.
Following the dissolvement of the Soviet Union, Ukraine inherited a fleet of 16 TU-160s. After negotiations, 11 Ukrainian TU-160s were purchased by Russia while the remainder were scrapped under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat reduction agreement. As of 2022, Russia has 16 TU-160s.
This bomber has been used during Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian civil war and has been deployed to countries like Venezuela and South Africa.
The anonymous engineer and what happened next
The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) report stated that the engineer’s arrival could be construed as valuable.
“The TU-160 White Swan, also known by the NATO reporting name ‘Blackjack,’ is reportedly the most advanced strategic bomber in the Russian inventory and has been also used in a tactical airstrike role in the Ukraine war. According to open-source reporting, a major new construction program of an improved version of the aircraft as well as an upgrade program of existing aircraft got underway at the Tupolev facility during the past few years,” said the report.
Yahoo news also spoke to a Russian military expert, Michael Kofman who said that he was unaware of the man seeking asylum but said that someone in his capacity could have access to “defence industrial production, and the recent developments to the TU-160.”
The Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security in the USA worked to confirm the man’s identity. He was deemed credible and of interest to the USA on January 11.
How this information could be of strategic advantage?
The USA has been sending military equipment to Ukraine about this particular aircraft bomber. The bomber has been reproduced and upgraded during the time of the engineer’s employment which could greatly help the USA.
Even aside from Ukraine, Russia and the USA, Indian Air Marshal Anoop Raha last year said that India was interested in purchasing TU-160s. Reports have hinted at how India is in talks with Russia to acquire six of these strategic aircraft bombers. This is important to note because as of the moment only USA, Russia and China own strategic bombers which are in operation.