March 28, 2009 / 5:46 PM / 9 years ago

After Putin, Russia's Medvedev flies warplane

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Saturday made a 30-minute flight on Sukhoi-34 fighter-bomber, following an example set by his powerful predecessor Vladimir Putin.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev sits in the Sukhoi SU-34 fighter-bomber before the flight during his visit to Kubinka airbase outside Moscow, March 28, 2009. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Dmitry Astakhov

Medvedev was shown by Russian television dressed in pilot’s flying suit and helmet climbing into the blue jet at Kubinka air base near Moscow. Later he appeared on the screens waving from the cockpit before the plane started taxying before take-off.

“It was a fantastic feeling,” Medvedev said after the jet landed half an hour later. “Words cannot convey this feeling.”

Medvedev, who has promised the Russian military a major re-armaments program will go ahead despite the economic crisis, visited the base to see the latest military aircraft.

The visit came four days before Medvedev was due to hold his first talks with U.S. President Barack Obama in London aimed at “pressing the reset button” on their strained bilateral ties.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev visits Kubinka airbase outside Moscow, March 28, 2009. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Dmitry Astakhov

Russia’s push to build up its armed forces is one of the issues which have raised eyebrows in the West.

Medvedev, a former corporate lawyer with no military background, has so far shown little interest in trying out military equipment, unlike his ally and mentor Putin, an ex-KGB spy who stepped down last May after eight years in power.

Slideshow (6 Images)

Putin, who won popularity at home by crushing a separatist rebellion in Chechnya, once chose a supersonic fighter jet to fly in for one of his inspection visits to the restive province.

Putin is now Medvedev’s prime minister and a partner in the de-facto ruling tandem.

Portraits of Putin in pilot’s gear or navy uniform have become popular among Russians, many of whom associate the revival of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union with the growth of its military might.

Writing by Oleg Shchedrov; Editing by Jon Boyle

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