04 November 2015

Will Russia reap the whirlwind?

The question just as easily could be "Has Russia reaped the whirlwind?" A sense of schadenfreude no doubt leads many to believe, if not hope, that the Russian passenger jet that went down with all hands and passengers in the Sinai desert last weekend was brought down by a terrorist action. While expert observers of the so-called Islamic State and allied forces doubt whether the would-be caliphate has the missiles to knock a plane out of the air at such a height, it's less implausible that a bomb could have been smuggled onto the plane. The Metrojet airline has fueled suspicion by denying that pilot error or prior technical issues could have caused the mid-air breakup and crash of the Airbus, while the Russian government refuses to jump to conclusions. I guess we should at least rule out the otherwise-predictable paranoid theory that the Putin government blew the plane up to further justify its anti-IS intervention in Syria, since had that been the plan Russian officialdom presumably wouldn't hesitate to blame terrorists. I suspect they're probably more concerned with their air industry's reputation for safety and reliability, and even more so now that one of their cargo planes has crashed in South Sudan. Back in Soviet days, as I recall, Aeroflot was a global joke just as most Eastern Bloc industry was. Today's Russia doesn't want to have that reputation again, nor do they want people to think that they're taking their lives in their hands by flying Russian for any reason. By comparison, western observers seem eager to conclude that the Sinai crash was terrorist work. Since they supposedly dislike Russia's intervention in favor of the Assad regime, presumably they don't want to egg the Russians into an escalation by telling them that the IS has murdered a few hundred of their people, and they most likely doubt that a definitive finding of terrorist guilt would terrorize the cruel and ruthless Russians into quitting their air campaign.

Schadenfreude probably factors into Anglo-American investigations, or at least a desire to tell the Russians that we told them so. Confirmation that terrorists brought the plane down probably would inspire a perverse feeling of relief from an anxious, somewhat jealous feeling that the Russians, through some mysterious advantage of authoritarianism or by virtue of Putin's mastery, and in spite of a recent history of repercussions from their pacification of Chechnya, could get away with bombing the Daesh, and rescuing their client dictator in the process, without consequences. In cruder terms, westerners and Russophobes probably feel the same way about the Sinai crash as many around the world felt, whether they admitted it or not, on September 11, 2001: that however tragic the disaster was for the innocent victims, the nation had it coming. Since few Americans, I hope, will be so gauche as to say that openly about the Sinai crash, blaming the terrorists is an indirect way of blaming the Russians themselves,  even (or especially) if we think their real offense is not attacking the IS but protecting Assad.

What do I think? I think that it's natural for the IS to take credit, whether they did it or not, but I'd need to hear more from them about how they did it before I take such knee-jerk claims as seriously as some want to. From what I've read about Metrojet it seems that private-sector incompetence and neglect can't be ruled out, but we're still too early in the investigation to rule anything out, apart maybe from crackpot theories blaming the U.S., Israel (why?), Saudi Arabia (why not?) or the Russians themselves. What the hell, let's have someone blame the Ukrainians, too. Some people have to blame somebody when shit happens the way Don Corleone was going to blame somebody if Michael got struck by lightning when he came home from Sicily. The possibility that the crash may have been an accident that not even the airline could have anticipated might be the scariest of all for many of us, since it would remind us that human will doesn't always control history.

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