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The mystery of Putin’s private, blinged-out jet

The posting of pictures purporting to be from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s private jet set off a small furor in Russia today, and somebody may be in big trouble with Vlad’s security people. The photos were uploaded to the Livejournal account of somebody nicknamed “hectop,” and then later linked by ür-blogger Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing. ...

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The posting of pictures purporting to be from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s private jet set off a small furor in Russia today, and somebody may be in big trouble with Vlad’s security people. The photos were uploaded to the Livejournal account of somebody nicknamed “hectop,” and then later linked by ür-blogger Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing. They show that someone, if not Putin himself, really likes burled walnut paneling and gold accents:

Source: hectop.livejournal.com

I did some digging to try and verify whether these photos are legit, and here’s what I’ve found so far. Putin’s plane, an Ilyushin 96-300, was refurbished back in 2001 by a firm in Bristol in the United Kingdom known as Diamonite Aircraft Furnishings Ltd for £10m. Diamonite’s preliminary drawing (pdf) from the time looks an awful lot like the style of the plane’s conference room in one of the leaked photos, so they could well be real:

Kommersant, an online Russian daily, reports that after a Russian newspaper’s republication of the photos, “Russian special services have shown interests [sic] to the blog which posted the pictures.”

The person who posted the snapshots insists that they show Putin’s aircraft. He declined to name the source. Speaking to Kommersant, the man introduced himself as Yury and said he lives in the United States. Yury says that Russian intelligence services have shown interest to the pictures as he has noticed their e-protocols in his blog. “I emailed them to give information about these pictures,” he told Kommersant. “It’s up to them whether to give it to Voronezh Aircraft or not.

Voronezh Aircraft’s director general said the information about “such a top-security objective as the president’s aircraft ought to be closely guarded.”

And we know what happens when Russian special services show interests in individuals. What started out as poking fun at Putin’s grotesque taste could well end up getting someone in deep trouble. As for Putin himself, it’ll be interesting to see if the Russian public reacts to the photos like some Venezuelans did back in 2002, when they discovered the luxuriousness of Hugo Chávez’s own private IL-96-300.

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