Putin wasted no time to expand Russian military presence over both Syria and the middle east, when as reported earlier today, the Russian president expanded the military campaign against ISIS bombing targets in conjunction with the French air force.
That was not the surprise.
What was, is that for the first time since the launch of the Russian air campaign Russia used strategic, long-range bombers, the kind that can deliver not only cruise missiles but tactical nuclear weapons. The Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed as much when he said that Tupolev Tu-160, Tu-95MS strategic bombers are used in the strikes on ISIL targets in Syria.
According to Interfax, "Tu-160, Tu-95MS, Tu-22 long-range aviation warplanes are used in the destruction of the gangs in addition to operational tactical aviation from the Russian territory," Shoigu said at a meeting in the Defense Ministry chaired by Russian President and Supreme Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
The Russian strategic bombers are using the Hmeimim airbase in Syria as their primary base.
The commander of the Russian Long-Range Aviation Lt. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev reported to Putin that all types of attack planes, which the Long-Range Aviation is armed with, are used, namely Tu-160 and Tu-95MS strategic missile carriers and Tu-22M3 long-range bombers to perform combat tasks in Syria.
"The crews of strategic and long-range bombers are accomplishing the tasks to strike the sites in strict compliance with the plan of delivering the first massive air strike. Tu-160 and Tu-95MS strategic missile carriers have landed on their airfields upon accomplishing the combat mission. The maintenance and preparations of aircraft for future sorties are being conducted, the objective control materials are being analyzed," Zhikharev said.
The Aviationist blog adds that according to one of its sources "the long-range bombers the Russian Air Force has used against ground targets in Syria early in the morning on Nov. 17 were Tu-22M Backfire strategic bombers." It adds that "the aircraft were allegedly launched from Mozdok airbase, in Ossetia, where as many as 6 Tu-22 Backfires were spotted on a recent deployment."
Curiously, Russia appears to have left a calling card that it has deployed strategic bombers: earlier today, social networks were abuzz showing images which were the alleged remains of a KH-555 missile found in Syria, the type of air-launched missile which, according to the Aviationist, "is mainly carried by Tu-95 Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack bombers (Tu-22s have been tested with the KH-555 but full integration is not completed or at least unknown), the long-range bombers that launched the attack on ground targets using those missiles may have been the Tu-95s or Tu-160s flying alongside the Backfires."
And here a clip of what is a Russian cruise missile (it may or may not have been the one whose remains are shown above) launched by one of the Russian strategic bombers currently operating above Syria.