Were Putin And Xi Really Spotted With 'Nuclear Footballs' Amid The Russian President's Trip?

Putin and Xi on the president's state visit to Beijing
Putin and Xi on the president's state visit to Beijing RT/Twitter

Social media is wondering if Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping tried to show off their nuclear power during the Russian president’s state trip today.

Putin arrived in Beijing to greet his “great friend” Xi amid plenty of pageantry on Thursday.

While they strolled around in front of the cameras, greeting various political and military figures, both were trailed by two officials carrying mysterious black briefcases.

The bags looked remarkably like something known as the “nuclear football” in the US, or the “cheget” in Russia – that’s a famous black leather briefcase which carries the codes for a nuclear strike.

This kind of briefcase is with the US president and the Russian president at all times, but rarely filmed.

But, it’s not entirely clear from the clips circulating on social media who the briefcases belonged to, or what they were.

Putin has used Russia’s nuclear power as a threat to the West since invading Ukraine.

China has repeatedly tried to discourage such rhetoric, but it is trying to grow its own nuclear arsenal.

However, Sky News military analyst Professor Michael Clarke claimed it was “unlikely” these were actually the nuclear briefcases, because officials carrying them will “generally seek to remain as unobtrusive as possible”.

“We certainly can’t rule out the idea that it could be part of some kind of clumsy gesture, but there are other more likely explanations,” he said, suggesting they could be translation documents.

However, Putin was also pictured carrying the nuclear briefcase in Beijing on his last visit to China in 2023.

Kremlin correspondents on state news agency RIA said in a post on Telegram under the footage at the time that “there are certain suitcase without which no trip of Putin’s is complete”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin
Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin Pool via Getty Images

The nuclear football has reportedly presented problems in the past in China.

In 2017, then US president Donald Trump visited Beijing and attempted to bring the nuclear football with him on the first full day of his trip.

But Chinese officials reportedly tried to stop the US agents carrying the nuclear briefcase from entering the auditorium where the two leaders were supposed to meet, leading to a “commotion”, according to a 2018 report from Axios. 

The US secret service later admitted there was a “short scuffle” between the two teams.

The Chinese officials did not touch the briefcase and later apologised to the US, according to the report.

Mexico’s former ambassador in Beijing, Jorge Guarjardo, posted on social media at the time: “Most foreign heads of state visiting China have a similar scuffle with a Chinese security official during their visit. Stories abound. I believe the report.”