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When President Vladimir V. Putin travels abroad — as he did this week to North Korea and Vietnam to strengthen alliances and cultivate security ties amid Russia’s war in Ukraine — he usually flies on Ilyushin Il-series jets 96 of Soviet design.

With his latest trip coming shortly after plane crashes that killed two other world leaders, President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran and Vice President Saulos Chilima of Malawi, a Kremlin spokesperson found it necessary recently to reassure the Russian public that Putin’s planes were “very reliable. “

Although Russian airlines have abandoned Ilyushin models in favor of new Western models – neither of the country’s two major airlines, Aeroflot and Rossiya, currently list any Ilyushin planes in their commercial passenger fleet – Putin appears steadfast in his commitment.

Accompanied by fighter jets, Putin took an Il-96 on a whirlwind day trip in 2023 for talks with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Earlier that year, another plane from the government’s Il-96 fleet was tracked as it stopped at airports in Washington and New York to pick up Russian diplomats who, according to the Kremlin, had been ordered to leave the United States.

In 2018, Putin traveled to Finland aboard an Il-96 – and was accused of briefly violating NATO airspace – for a summit meeting with former US President Donald J. Trump.

Little is known about the Rossiya Special Flight Squadron, also known as the 235th Separate Aviation Detachment, responsible for Kremlin aircraft, including Il-96s, Tu-214 planes and Mi-38 helicopters. Russian state media reports that 2,500 people work in the unit.

While using an obsolete plane may be disconcerting to outsiders, Putin could use the Soviet-designed plane to send a message of Russian resilience and strength.

“It’s the musings of a czar,” said Adam Taichi Kraft, a former intelligence-gathering strategist at the Defense Intelligence Agency who now advises on national security issues, “to be able to fly in the sky using whatever equipment he wants.” .

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