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A Facebook post shared a leaked video of warplanes as evidence that a pair of Russian supersonic nuclear planes landed in South Africa’s capital Pretoria amid the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. the claim was shared out of context: the images, while authentic, were taken in 2019 when Russia landed two of its advertised “White Swans” strategic bombers in South Africa to “deepen military cooperation” between the two nations.
The Facebook post published on March 6, 2022 features a TikTok video from Russian state broadcaster RT (formerly known as Russia Today) reporting the arrival of two of the country’s nuclear-capable fighter jets in South Africa.
“R.ussia Nuclear Bomber Jet made a symbolic landing in Pretoria South Africa to show off its (sic) capabilities,” read the caption on the Facebook post.
The chyron of the nearly four-minute TV report reads: “Russian ‘White Swans’ land in South Africa on symbolic visit.” A review of the video shows bombers leaving one airport in the dark and arriving at another during the day.
Former Zambian Ambassador to Ethiopia Emmanuel Mwamba also posted the same images on Facebook with a similar claim.
A screenshot of a similar broadcast by the state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) was also shared on Facebook in a post dated March 2, 2022. The SABC headline in the screenshot talks about a “military development” and said “Russia lands two strategic bombers”.
But the images and screenshot released by the SABC are unrelated to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces and show events that took place years before war broke out on 24 February 2022.
Using the InVID-WeVerify verification tool to perform a reverse image search on the video’s keyframes, AFP Fact Check found the original version on RT’s YouTube page.
“Russian nuclear bombers arrive in South Africa,” read the RT caption of the YouTube video, posted on October 25, 2019.
A similar video was uploaded to YouTube by SABC two days earlier.
“We live through Waterkloof Air Force Base now where Moscow lands two normal strategic fighter-bombers,” reads SABC’s description of the show.
“The planes are ready for military development in South Africa. One of the jets is called a blackjack bomber, it is the largest military aircraft in the world and the most sophisticated supersonic jet (sic).”
Russia refers to the Tu-160s as “white swans”, while NATO uses the reporting name “Blackjacks”.
AFP also documented the 2019 event, which actually took place at Waterkloof Air Base, south of Pretoria, South Africa.
The Russian Defense Ministry explained that the purpose of the visit was to develop bilateral military cooperation between the Russian Aerospace Forces and the South African Air Force.
“The event will help increase combat training for aircrew from both countries,” the ministry said in a statement posted on its website. “The comprehensive friendly relations between Russia and South Africa are built in the spirit of strategic partnership and mutual understanding.”
The Russian Embassy in South Africa has also tweeted on the landing of the nuclear plane the same year.
AFP Fact Check recently debunked similar messages claiming that Russia had sent two nuclear bombers of the same type to Venezuela, when in fact the accompanying footage was filmed in December 2018 during a joint military exercise between the two countries.
AFP Fact Check found that the two Tupolev Tu-160 bombers sent to Venezuela had registration numbers RF-94100 and RF-94102. The latter joined another bomber registered RF-94112 for the trip to South Africa.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine
Fighting between Russian forces and Ukrainian troops has claimed the lives of dozens of civilians since February 24, 2022 and could displace up to seven million people, according to EU estimates.
More than 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine to take refuge in neighboring countries after weeks of relentless shelling by Russian forces.
AFP also reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered last month to put the country’s nuclear forces on high alert, triggering global alarm.
The Federation of American Scientists estimates that Russia has 5,977 nuclear warheads, making the country the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world.
AFP Fact Check has debunked many false or misleading claims about the war in Ukraine.
EDIT 11/13/22: fixes repeated word in 8th paragraph