I want to respect #Russia but it’s difficult #Tupolev

While it’s true that I have a Master’s in International Politics, it’s not worth a helluva lot in this world because of all I wasn’t taught.

I wasn’t taught that the United States and the United Kingdom (together with their fellow Anglo wannabe dictator nations that make up the “Five Eyes”) use their influence to coerce other nations into actions counter to those nations’ interests. (There’s a reason why Australia has such a bad reputation among the Pacific Island nations.)

I wasn’t taught that the Mossad is essentially an anti-democratic death squad masquerading as a nation-state’s intelligence apparatus. I wasn’t taught that failed states can be propped up indefinitely through the use of military aid.

In fact, what I learnt in my ivory tower lecture rooms was that states are rational actors making sometimes irrational decisions due to the prejudices and ignorance of particular politicians and that, despite this, all of them strive for the Holy Grail of “democracy”…whatever that means in today’s world. Laughing yet?

Since I got that degree, I’ve been watching the world a little more closely and it isn’t quite operating in the way I was taught, which is another way of saying that we’re all stumbling around in the dark here because we really don’t know what the hell is going on.

To whit, the Tupolev crash.

[Before I continue, do I think that there’s a massive disinformation/smear campaign against Russia? Absolutely. Do I think the sanctions against her are a farce? Yep. Do I think the Western world is attempting to goad her into World War Three? Definitely. Do I believe that Putin has been the most forebearing world leader in the modern world? Yes, I do. And, in fact, that may be part of the problem. Let’s move on.]

CNN reported that on Christmas Day, 2016, a Tupolev Tu-154 plane:

carrying members of the army’s official choir traveling to perform in Syria has crashed in the Black Sea near Sochi. There are apparently no survivors, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

The plane was carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members, for a total of 92 people.

From a related CNN report:

The plane, which first took off from Moscow, was flying to the Russian Hmeymim airbase in Latakia, Syria, where the country has a large military presence, for a concert ahead of New Year’s Eve, a source told Russia’s state news agency Tass.

The Russians have resembled a yoyo on this matter. First, the crash couldn’t have possibly been part of a terrorist action; then the crash may have been part of a terrorist action; now the crash isn’t part of a terrorist action again.

It’s difficult to come to any kind of sensible conclusion reading the news, so let’s depend on more concrete details.

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According to the online aviation encyclopaedia, Flugzeug (and with a name like that, how can you not believe them?), the Tupolev Tu-154 is “a three-engine medium-range narrowbody jet airliner with a capacity of maximum 95 passengers”, although just a few lines later, Flugzeug says that the passenger capacity is “180”. Which is it?

[Click to enlarge]

If you do some more searching, you’ll see that plane that crashed was a Tu-154B. Can we find out anything about that specific model? Yes we can! The US website, Airlines Inform says that the TU-154B(-2) indeed has capacity for 180 passengers. In fact, it goes further. If all the passengers are in one class, then capacity is 164-180. If, however, passengers are divided into two classes, then you need to install an extra kitchen area and some lavatories, so the capacity is down to 131-141.

The latest from the Russians is that, “According to experts of the Defense Ministry, the Tu-154 crashed because the plane was overloaded”. I’ll quote the details here:

Experts believe that the tragedy started developing after the co-pilot, 33-year-old captain Alexander Rovensky, retracted the flaps instead of the chassis. The move put the aircraft beyond the aerodynamic angle of attack. The crew tried to turn the aircraft back to the ground, but did not have enough time to do so.

It was also established that the Tu-154 was overloaded. The luggage compartment was filled to the limit. As a result, the cargo pulled the tail section of the aircraft down. The tail part of the fuselage hit the water first. The right wing hit the water surface next, and the plane fell apart.

So we have (a) inexperience, (b) overloading. Let’s take them one at a time.

Pilot experience

Most aircrashes around the world are due to pilot error. (My father used to work in the airline industry and I read some of the semi-private crash reports that circulated.) But, in the case of this particular Tupolev, pilot error as a result of inexperience is highly unlikely. The pilot, Major Roman Volkov, had over 3,000 hours flying experience and was a flight instructor himself. The Russians originally tried to pin the crash on him, but his family (and father Colonel Alexander Volkov) was having none of it, so they had to look for someone else and decided on co-pilot, Captain Alexander Rovensky. Rovensky had only ten years’ flying experience and, it appears, didn’t have any relatives in the Russian Armed Forces to stand up for his reputation, so Rovensky it is! Remember that: the Russians tried to blame the pilot first.


The flight landed at Adler in Sochi after departing from Moscow. Needless to say, nothing happened to the plane during the almost 1400 km distance between the first two points.

Nothing was loaded or taken off the plane at Sochi, including the passengers, who remained onboard the entire time. So if the plane wasn’t overloaded out of Moscow (in relatively thinner atmosphere at 144m elevation above sea level), how could it be overloaded out of Sochi (in relatively thicker atmosphere at 14m above sea level)?

Aircraft record

In fact, the Tu-154 has a good flight record. Pilots may say that the aircraft is difficult to fly, but it was the workhorse of the Soviet airline system. The Smolensk crash, back in 2010, was most definitely a case of pilot error. The tower even tried to warn the plane to divert to Minsk due to bad weather, but the pilot refused, and the Polish president and most of his parliament were killed. The 2009 crash in Iran was due to bad weather. And the 2006 crash in the Ukraine was also due to bad weather.

* * *

Enough for you? It gets worse. Here’s an oft-repeated nugget from a 10 January Report UK post :

A Transport Ministry source told the website the plane was “overloaded” possibly from flying out seasonal gifts to Russian troops stationed in Syria.
“The fact that the tail was the first to hit the water means that it was overloaded,” said the source.
“It was almost the last civil flight to Syria (before the festive season), so relatives and friends could have convinced the airport and the crew to take additional luggage on board.

Here’s the problem, folks (well, besides the fact that, again, nothing was loaded on the plane at Sochi). It wasn’t a civil[ian] flight. It was a military aircraft, piloted by military pilots, bearing overwhelmingly military passengers, with some sprinkling of civilians. And I’m not even adding the fact that the Russian festive season differs from the traditional Christmas festive season because the Russians, as Orthodox Christians, use the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian. So “Christmas” for Russians is two weeks later, on 7 January. So, the “last civil flight to Syria (before the festive season)”? Wrong on two counts.

The only conclusion left to any careful reader is that the Russians are lying. The pilot was experienced and the plane wasn’t overloaded. (It flew quite well from Moscow to Sochi, remember?) The obvious excuse available to them was to use the “malfunctioning flaps” explanation, but the significant point is that the Russians didn’t use it. Which means that the flaps didn’t malfunction, right? And we know that the plane wasn’t overloaded. And the crew was very experienced…

So what happened?

And here’s where I circle around to my opening statement that what I was taught at University diverges enormously from what actually happens. The short answer is, I don’t know. But here’s where speculation may lead us.

The French reconnaisance ship, the Dupuy de Lome, entered the Black Sea (where Sochi is, for my North American readers) on Christmas Eve. Wikipedia tells us that the Dupuy de Lome is a signals and intelligence ship. Here’s the write up on it from the French Ministry of Defence website. Interesting titbits from that page, and a slight bit of additional reading, yield the following:

  • The ship is relatively new; it was commissioned in March 2004 and has, no doubt, been upgraded several times since.
  • Although part of the Navy, it is specifically attached to the Military Intelligence Directorate which “defines its mission and operates its [armaments…I think]”.
  • If you look at its photos, you’ll see that it sports massive signals installations on deck.
  • The military intelligence department is called Direction du Renseignement Militaire (DRM), which reports directly to the French Defence Ministry, rather than through the Armed Forces (e.g. the Navy) to which the Directorate is attached.

I would like to make two points here. The first is that you don’t send a military intelligence ship to waters next to Russia if you’re just enjoying a tropical cruise. The second is that the French have proven themselves to be not only hygiene- and fashion-challenged, but downright treacherous. And, from France military intelligence, it’s only a hop and a skip to NATO.

If they had access to technology, would the French bring down a foreign military transport? Knowing what little I know of French “operations”, I think the answer is a definitive yes. Do the Russians know this? Absolutely.

So what’s going on? And it’s here, again, that we’re stuck.

A reader of politics may surmise, not without basis, that there’s a lot we’re not being told. The last time I looked, the NATO countries and Russia call themselves democratic but we now know that for the sham it is. Do I believe that there are back-channel deals going on? Yes. And do I believe that such deals are inimical to mature, modern so-called democratic societies? Yes.

Look, trade between the United States and Russia has continued, despite the sanctions, expanded sanctions and extended sanctions. In fact, from 2013 (when everything was peachy) to 2014 (Ukraine), Russian exports to the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, and France actually rose. Go here and play around with the years and you’ll see. Are there sanctions? Yes. But is the whole sanctions scenario being deceptively played up? I think the answer is a yes to that as well.

The plain truth is, we’re not being told the truth by either side. I can understand that people are utterly disillusioned by the United States (take a number, join the queue). They see puppy-loving, wildlife-caring Vladimir Putin as an honorable alternative to blood-soaked Barack Obama, murderous Hillary Clinton and plain loopy Donald Trump. But that is a simplistic picture.

While countries continue to lie to us (their own citizens and foreign populations), it puts all of us at the stage where we are unable to ascertain exactly what is going on. What the figures say and what we’re being told by every mainstream news service on Earth is diametrically opposite.

I would like to believe that Russia is on the side of Relative Good. I would like to believe that a more egalitarian multi-polar world is slowly being birthed. But if Russia is going to sacrifice the reputations of its own citizens for the sake of some shady deals with the devil, then they are no better than the nation-state they oppose…if, in fact, they’re opposing it at all.

The grimmest, bleakest conclusion I can come to is that all we’re seeing is a transfer or division of power; a secret deal for conquering us using a “Good State, Bad State” theatrical trick on a stage the size of our planet. And if I’m being pulled in that direction, there’s only one actor you can blame and that, unfortunately, is Russia.

POSTSCRIPT: If you want a chuckle, try reading these two together: “Reports of atrocities emerge as France escalates Mali war” and “France’s War in Mali: Lessons for an Expeditionary Army”. Delightful.

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