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Two jetliners crash in Russia

Two Russian passenger jets crashed yesterday within minutes of each other, killing all 89 passengers. Both planes flew out of the same Moscow airport (Domodedovo) yesterday evening, and both crashed within two to three minutes of each other, suggesting heavily that this was a terrorist attack, rather than a horrible coincidence.

Russian authorities are still keeping an open mind as to the cause, however, and ITAR-TASS is reporting the FSB as saying that no evidence of terrorism has been found. Other possible causes for the crash that I’ve heard mentioned on the tv news (via CNN and BBC) have been a horrible coincidence (almost impossible odds), a missile accident similar to the one that downed a plane over the Black Sea a couple of years ago, or a mafia attack (although I think the fact that two seperate airlines were involved rules this out).

Personally, I think its a pretty fair bet that the crashes were a result of terrorist activity, most likely Chechen rebels who have been threatening to disrupt the upcoming Chechen presidential election. This attack is certainly a massive coup for them, showing that they still have the ability to hit major targets. It will almost certainly have a big impact on public opinion in Russia. Previous Chechen terrorism has tended to concentrate on just two areas – the south of Russia, which is logistically easy to target, and Moscow, for maximum political impact. But yesterday’s attacks will leave people from all over Russia feeling insecure, as the airline network extends to every corner of Russia.

Finally, I just wanted to make an observation about airline security in Russia. A lot of commentators have been saying that Russia has really beefed up its security – baggage and passenger checking – over the last couple of years. I disagree.

I’ve never flown out of Domodedovo, but I have flown out of Sheremetevo many times, and I have to say that the security there is, in my experience, shockingly lax. On more than one occassion I’ve simply been waved through without having my bags checked at all, neither by x-ray or manual search. And the security at regional airports is usually even worse. And, given that bribery is so commonplace in Russia, I can’t imagine that it would be all that hard to pay groundstaff to smuggle explosives or weapons onto planes.

I’m surprised, frankly, that nobody has seriously tried to attack Russian airliners before. I’m also surprised that no-one has tried to attack American or European airliners that travel out of Russia.

Update: DEBKAfile speculates (wildly?) that Putin’s summer vacation hideaway in Sochi may have been the true target of the hijackers. (Hat tip: The Command Post, which has a good roundup posted).

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