A few weeks ago several Russian forums published an interesting document that details Russian Air Force plans for 2009 (I was told that although it is probably a draft of the plan it appears to be authentic). According to that document, in 2009 Russia plans to remove four Tu-96MS bombers from service (all four - from Ukrainka). One aircraft will be decommissioned and three - moved to storage (it's not entirely clear what that means, though). This means that the number of operational Tu-95MS bombers will be reduced to 59 from the current 63.

As of January 2009, 18 Tu-95MS aircraft were based at Engels, 40 - at Ukrainka, 4 - at Dyagilevo base near Ryazan, and one - at a test center in Akhtubinsk (for the purposes of the START Treaty this aircraft is listed in Ryazan).

The number of Tu-160 bombers listed in the document is 16, all of which are based in Engels. Which again raises a question about the discrepancy between the number of Tu-160 aircraft reported in the START treaty (14) and the number reported by the Air Force (16).

The only explanation I can come up with is that two of these 16 bombers are listed as test bombers located in Zhukovskiy, even though they are in fact part of the operational force.

Here is the list of operational Tu-160 bombers based in Engels as part of the 121st Guards regiment of heavy bombers:

19 Valentin Bliznyuk,
10 Nikolai Kuznetsov
11 Vasili Sen'ko
12 Aleksandr Novikov
14 [no name]
15 Vladimir Sudets
16 Aleksei Plokhov
17 Valeri Chkalov
18 [no name]
02 Vasili Reshetnikov
03 Pavel Taran
04 Ivan Yarygin
05 Aleksandr Golovanov
06 Il'ya Muromets
07 Aleksandr Molodchiy
08 Vitali Kopylov

There are 16 of them. In addition to that, there are three test aircraft that are based in Zhukovskiy - a "flying" test aircraft, Boris Veremey, and two "non-flying" ones. One more test aircraft has reportedly been moved to the Kazan Aviation Plant. This makes four test bombers, while START MOU lists six test bombers. But if two of operational bombers are listed as test ones, then the pieces seem to fit together.

This seems to make sense - one of the two bombers that recently joined the force one, Valentin Bliznyuk (joined in July 2006), is a test aircraft that underwent modernization. It has always been listed as test aircraft in START. Another - Vitaly Kopylov (April 2008) - reportedly is not fully equipped, so it is operational only nominally. It was briefly listed in START MOU as operational - in July 2008 - but by January 2009 was transferred to the test bombers column.