Vladimir Putin's custom-made Il-96-300PU jet got all the hype after UK tabloids and other outlets got their hands on what they claimed were photos of the plane's interior. The papers immediately began making comparisons between the Russian president's plane and President Trump's Air Force One Boeing VC-25.
The newspapers pointed to the Russian plane's "lavish plane interior," king size bed, "and even a gym."
They cited outright false figures claiming that the Russian president's jet cost $500 million, compared to $1 billion for Trump's Air Force One jet. In fact, the last of the four Il-96-300PUs be delivered for the president's use cost 5.2 billion rubles, or about $82.8 million US, according to Russian media specializing in the aviation industry. As for the VC-25, it actually has a unit cost of $325 million, according to Boeing.
But the meat of the story isn't in the plane's cost, but the photos of what's said to be its interior. In their articles, The Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Sun showed off what the tabloids said was the interior of the Russian presidential plane, showing its sleeping quarters, gold trim bathroom, gallery, conference hall, and a huge gym area.
- Screengrab of the Mirror piece.© Photo : Screenshot
- Screengrab of the Sun piece.© Photo : Screenshot
- Screengrab of the news.com.au piece.© Photo : Screenshot
- Screengrab of the Mail piece.© Photo : Screenshot
Attributing the photos to "EuroPics-CEN," an obscure Vienna-based news agency, the tabloids gawked over the plane's "swanky" style, "opulence," and lavish "neoclassical" themes. Australian news site news.com.au also got in on the story, and dubbed the aircraft "Putin's outrageous $700 million plane."
However, Sputnik's attempts to find the actual original source of the photos came up empty-handed. All that emerged was a YouTube video from March 2015 whose original source was simply "the internet."
Whether the interior really is that of Putin's Il-96-300PU remains unclear, although exclusive reporting by Russian media in 2013 and 2017 showed aircraft interiors which look quite different than that seen in the "internet" sourced photos published in the Western tabloids.
Russia's fleet of presidential Il-96-300PUs is thought to consist of four aircraft. Built by the Voronezh Aircraft Factory, the planes have a series of advanced security features, including a protective coating along the frame to confuse radars, a jamming system against MANPADS missiles, and even their own air defense system. They are also believed to have a rescue system for their VIP passenger. The first of the presidential Il-96s was built for President Boris Yeltsin in 1995. The second, third and fourth, used by Presidents Putin and Medvedev, were delivered in 2003, 2013 and 2015.