Increased air traffic has been observed in the Black Sea region this morning ahead of a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi. The meeting between Putin and Erdogan is expected to focus on the issue of a grain export agreement. Russia has blocked Ukrainian grain exports from leaving the Black Sea, which has led to a global food crisis.
It is possible that Putin and Erdogan will discuss the possibility of a corridor through the Black Sea for Ukrainian grain exports. However, it is also possible that the meeting will be fruitless, as Russia has so far refused to lift its blockade of the Black Sea.
On the one hand, NATO aircraft are operating as usual. A US Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon is on its way to conduct a SIGINT mission over eastern Romania, and a US Air Force Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk is conducting a surveillance mission over the central Black Sea.
On the other hand, two special Russian aircraft are being tracked. The first is a Tupolev Tu-204 (registration RA-64057) that has arrived in Sochi from Moscow and is likely carrying Putin. The second is a Tupolev Tu-214PU-SBUS (registration RA-64529) that is circling off the coast of Sochi before landing.
The Tupolev Tu-214PU-SBUS is a special-purpose aircraft-control point (AOC) developed by Russia’s Tupolev Design Bureau for the Russian Ministry of Defense. It is based on the Tu-214 commercial airliner, but has been modified with a variety of avionics and communications equipment to support air and ground operations.
The Tu-214PU-SBUS has a range of over 7,200 kilometers (4,500 miles) and can carry up to 160 passengers. It is equipped with a variety of communications systems, including satellite communications, VHF, UHF, and HF radios. It also has a variety of other systems, including a weather radar, a navigation suite, and a defensive aids suite.
The Tu-214PU-SBUS is used to support a variety of missions, including command and control, communications, and intelligence gathering.