Jeffrey LewisOn That Aeroflot Advert

Update | 1 September 2012 The image is from the 2011, not 2012, Victory Day Parade.  I managed to find a high-resolution aerial shot of the 2012 Parade that allows us to exclude 2012 That would make the second set of vehicles the SA-22 (Pantsir-S1), not SS-21s.  So, both sets of vehicles are for air defense.  Credit to G. J. Hickman for convincing me to take a second look.  Heck of an eye on that guy.

The internets are exploding over this advertisement in the Brussels subway for the Russian airline Aeroflot.

Upon closer inspection, the aerial shot of Moscow reveals what appear to be two columns of missile launchers rolling down Kremlevskaya Naberezhnaya.  The Daily Telegraph is known for neither subtlety nor accuracy and, in this case, does not disappoint:

Russia’s Aeroflot entices visitors with Moscow’s cathedrals and nuclear missiles

As well as the beauty of Kremlin’s golden cathedral spires, sinister nuclear missiles will also welcome tourists to Moscow, according to bizarre billboard advertisements from Russia’s national airline.

Posters advertising Aeroflot’s twice-a-day flights from Brussels to Moscow have appeared under the heading “Discover Russia” on the walls of the Belgian capital’s Metro underground service.

At first sight, the poster is an attractive aerial photograph of the Kremlin and the Moscow embankment with the Christ the Saviour Cathedral seen further down the Moskva river.

But on closer examination, the photograph also shows a convoy of military trucks carrying intercontinental ballistic missiles or ICBMs, including nuclear warheads.


The weapons, some of which appear to be “Topol” mobile nuclear missile launchers, known by Nato as SS-27s, are showcased every year during Russia’s annual May 9 “Victory Parade” held on Red Square.

It is very easy to determine when the picture was taken and, as a result, assess the hardware on the street.  These are conventionally-armed missile defense interceptors and short-range ballistic missiles, not nuclear-capable ICBMs.

The simplest thing is to look at the buildings in the Kremlin, which is the cluster of gold-domed buildings surrounded by the red wall.  I noticed that one building — the Palace of Facets — was undergoing construction.  This is what the Palace of Facets looks like normally.

Now here are two images — a closeup from the poster (left) and an image taken in November 2011 (right).

It is pretty clear that the image was taken during the construction that was evident in November 2011.  It is a safe bet that the image is from late 2011 or early 2012. [I am now sure the image is from May 2011.]

On 9 May 2012, Russia held the annual “Victory Day Parade.”  (We can even rule out the first rehearsal day, based on the weather.) The parade route runs through Red Square (below the bottom of the bottom of the image).  The vehicles would have passed through Red Square, in front of a large reviewing stand and then turned right, heading up Kremlevskaya Naberezhnaya.  Although it is a little hard to see, the vehicles on the poster have already passed by the reviewing stand and are now driving away from the parade and the viewer.  We are looking at their back-ends as they head home.  (Notice that the first column of vehicles has gone to single file as the road opens to two-way traffic.)

[Here is a high-resolution aerial image of the Victory Day 2012.  As you can see, the Palace of Facets is not longer under construction.

The little red splotch is left over from Putin’s inauguration.]

You can watch the parade on YouTube. [But you should instead, watch the 2011 Victory Day Parade!] (The video is taken from the Kremlin side of Red Square, meaning the vehicles are moving left to right.  The image on the poster, however, is taken from the opposite direction, watching the vehicles move from right to left.)

Looking at the video, as well as the rehearsal images, the first set of 8 vehicles are SA-21 Growler (S-400 Triumf) missile defense interceptors (see: 52:32).  The second set of 8 vehicles are SS-26 Stone (9K720 Iskander) tactical ballistic missiles (see: 54:00). A Russian blogger has reached the same conclusion. Neither the SA-21 nor SS-26 is a nuclear-armed ICBM, so the Telegraph is guilty of a little bit of hyperbole.

[Ok, if you watch the 2011 Parade, the method is the same — but the order of vehicles is different.  Looking at the Part 3 of the 2011 parade, the first set of 8 vehicles are SA-21 Growler (S-400 Triumf) air defense interceptors (see: 10:40).  The second set of 8 vehicles are SA-22 ((Pantsir-S1)) air defense interceptors (see: 11:56). Neither the SA-21 nor SA-22 is a nuclear-armed ICBM, so the Telegraph is still guilty of a little bit of hyperbole.]

The 2012 [and 2011] parade did include the nuclear-capable SS-27, but that is not what is pictured here. It is pretty easy to exclude the SS-27s. Not only is the order wrong, but there were only three SS-27s in the parade, they were in single file and had totally different support vehicles. Had the image on the poster been taken a few minutes later, then it might have captured SS-27s rolling up the street.  Then again, if my grandmother had balls …

Still, the picture is an odd choice for tourism.  I suspect that someone at Aeroflot must have just thought it was a pretty shot of the Kremlin.  Or maybe someone assumed no one notice.  But I doubt the image conveys any deep propaganda message from Kremlin.


  1. Ano N. Ymous (History)

    “But I doubt the image conveys any deep propaganda message from Kremlin.”

    At worst, the intended message is that Russia is shying away from military power as the column is heading off to the horizon. And how often does Russia attempt to downplay it’s military might in reality?

    • P (History)

      Explain that to the Georgians who were on ‘the horizon’ in 2008 when the Russian military might turned against them included Iskanders.

    • Ano N. Ymous (History)

      Clearly my puny attempt at sarcasm was lost in the clogged tubes of the internet. I meant the propagandist interpretation of the image is completely at odds with both the actual behaviour (Georgia) and political rhetoric (everywhere) of Russia.

  2. Eric S. Smith (History)

    I love this classic, Cold War–style intelligence analysis — correlating photos and weather reports, identifying missile launchers — applied to a tourism poster. All we need some discussion of who’s next to Putin on the reviewing stand!

  3. G. J. Hickman (History)

    “The second set of 8 vehicles are SS-26 Stone (9K720 Iskander) tactical ballistic missiles (see: 54:00).”

    Actually they are SA-22 Greyhound

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Gee, I don’t know about that. I see the SA-22s rolling by at (51:42) before the SA-21s, not after. (I also double checked with the rehearsal — same order.)

      If the second eight vehicles are SA-22s, then the first eight would be SA-11 Gadflies. The first eight really don’t look like SA-11s to me.

      What makes you think otherwise?

    • G. J. Hickman (History)

      To me the vehicles in the photo look like SA-22 and not SS-21.

      If you look at the image on the linked blog which has better contrast the dimentions and features just dont seem to match the profile of the SS-21. The central lighter circle with two distinct ‘arms’ on either side looks very much the arrangment of the fire control radar and missiles/guns on the SA-22 however.

      There is also no difference between any of the vehicles, we should see a distinction between the TEL (which was not showing its missiles) and the missile transporters (exposed missiles) for SS-21 but there does not appear to be one in the image.

      Now this does not explain the video timing for 2012, however in the 2011 parade SA-22 followed the SA-21…

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Yep, you’re right. It is the 2011 parade — because I can clearly see the renovation on the Palace of Facets was complete by May 9 in this aerial shot.

  4. Victor (History)

    Nice to see that Arms Control Wonk’s really live up to the wonk part. Keep up the good work.

  5. Daniel BESSON (History)

    Jeffrey ,
    You are wrong ! They are not SS-26 but Pantsyr S-1 systems and the ” white dishes ” are the radar seen fromm the rear !G. J. Hickman is right ! The isolated vehicule a the front of the 8 Pantsyr is a battery commanding vehicule , may be a BTR-80K version of the BTR-80

  6. RAJ47 (History)

    The vehicles are marching from SW to NE in the Aeroflot image i.e. from down to up. I think thats where you are making a mistake.
    The columns are of S-400 (top) and Pantsir S1 (bottom) as correctly pointed out by Daniel BESSON.
    Ofcourse, Topol is not in picture.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      The down to up I understood; the mistake was thinking it was the 2012 parade rather than the 2011. Now that we know it is 2011, the vehicles are S-400 followed by Pantsir S1.

  7. Daniel BESSON (History)

    Watching the 2011 parade , retransmitted by Kanal Rossiya , we even know the name of the unit commanders ! The S-400 regiment is the one of the Moscow defense and is commanded by a Lieutnant-Colonel of the Guard , the Pantsir regiment by a Major of the Guard .
    Now , how old is the captain ?

    • Daniel BESSON (History)

      The commanding officers are :
      Lieutenant-Colonel Serguei Govoritz for the S-400
      Major Vadim Jossov for the Pantsir S-1

  8. Aditya (@lalithadithya) (History)

    Syrian rebels captured some kind of SAM missiles today .. can anybody identify them in this video

  9. RAJ47 (History)

    The link you provide seems to be dangerous.
    Youtube has probably the same video.
    This is S-200 (SA-5 GAMMON).
    It requires a proper site withlaunch rails (5P72) and radars (5N62).
    Syria has four active S-200 sites.
    They are near Masayaf, Homs, Ad Dumayr and Iotniczy Chalchala.