It remains to be seen if the incident is really a well-organized terrorist attack. However, no matter what results the probe will yield, it won’t return the dozens of victims — gifted musicians, journalists and the woman who dedicated her life to saving distressed people.

Flowers laid near the office of the Fair Aid charity foundation to commemorate its founder Elizaveta Glinka, who was killed as a result of the Tu-154 plane crash. Photo: RIA Nosvosti

On Dec. 25, the Tu-154 plane of Russia’s Defense Ministry en route to Syria carrying journalists, musicians from the Alexandrov Red Army Ensemble and a famous Russian charity activist Elizaveta Glinka crashed with its debris scattered within 15 kilometers.

The goal of the flight was peaceful in its nature despite the fact that the plane belonged to Russia’s Defense Ministry. Musicians from the prominent Alexandrov Red Army Ensemble were expected to do a New Year performance for Russian and Syrian soldiers and top brass. The military band was also well-known abroad for its magnificent performances.

The Skyfall Alexandrov Ensemble Red Army Choir Deutschland Tournee 2013. Source: YouTube / Alexandrov Ensemble

In fact, it is an example of Russia’s soft power. In 2004 the ensemble gave an exclusive concert in the Vatican in honor of the birthday of Pope John Paul II (1978-2005). In 2005, it took part in the celebrations dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz camp from Nazi forces and during the opening of the Russian Winter in England festival.

The plane crash killed the core of the Ensemble, including its head Valery Khalilov. Russia’s Defense Ministry promised to recreate the military band as soon as possible, yet one should not expect encouraging and optimistic celebrations at the end of 2016 in Russia.

More about the Tu-154 crash: "A Defense Ministry plane en route to Syria crashes claiming innocent lives"

Another passenger killed by the aircraft catastrophe is a very prominent charity activist within Russia, Elizaveta Glinka, also known as Dr. Liza, a tiny woman with an intransigent and strong character. In 1990 she created the first hospice in Kiev, while in 2017 she founded the Fair Aid foundation, which returned thousands of homeless children to normal life.

As a prominent and active human rights campaigner, she stuck to her principles firmly and criticized authorities many times for their failure to respond timely and properly to natural disasters such as the flood in the Krasnodar Region in 2012. Despite her criticism, she was included in Russia’s Presidential Council on Civil Society Development and Human Rights.

However, during the war in Eastern Ukraine, she was criticized, including in the West, for sending humanitarian aid to the breakaway and unrecognized republics in Donbas. She was in hot waters with the Russian branch of the Red Cross, a humanitarian institution based in Geneva, because the latter allegedly refused to provide security guarantees to the Russian trucks carrying clothing, medicine, and food to Eastern Ukraine.

Also read: "Aleppo bombing: A lost opportunity for Russian statesmanship at the UN"

No wonder, the death of Glinka was met with a great deal of shock from many people she worked with. Lyudmila Alexeeva, a famous human rights activist and the Moscow Helsinki Group head, described Glinka as a “saint” while pointing out to her readiness to help all those victims of military conflicts, natural disasters or just routine hardships of life. Dr. Liza flew to Syria with a big bulk of medicine for civil hospitals. After the Aleppo seizure there are a lot of injured and wounded people, including peaceful citizens who need urgent help.

The victim list of the crash also includes television journalists, who were expected to cover the events in Syria and show how military and civilians are preparing to celebrate the New Year and Christmas in the war-torn country.

Russian journalists killed as a result of the Tu-154 plane crash. Photo: RIA Nosvosti

Currently, authorities claim that the plane crashed because of technical malfunction or human factor. At the same time, the radar records indicate that the aircraft disappeared seven minutes after takeoff, which looks very suspicious given the fact that the Tu-154 is seen as a comparably reliable aircraft. Although the crashed plane was manufactured in 1982, it has been regularly repaired and maintained in a good working condition, with the skills of pilots being high enough to manage the aircraft. The weather conditions were also good for flying on this day.

The list of passengers and the very goal of the flight turned it into a very lucrative target for terrorists. On the other hand, the security on military planes is always very high. Yet they might be also very vulnerable if they make stops in airports of different cities to refuel. In addition, it was not very difficult for terrorists to know the date of the arrival of the famous Russian musical band in Damascus, even though military flights and its passengers are supposed to be kept in secret.

Recommended: "Hard lessons for the Kremlin from the Ankara assassination"

However, it remains to be seen if the incident is really a well-organized terrorist attack. The further investigation will shed light on it. So far, there are too many coincidences and indirect signs proving the crash might be a terrorist attack. After all, Russia’s reputation after this incident might suffer severely after the plane fulfilling a humanitarian mission crashed, with the Kremlin’s potential to fight international terrorism put into question by skeptics.

One other hand, if it really was a terrorist attack, it will only fuel the confrontation between Russia and the terrorists, with the Kremlin seeing its Syrian operation as an act of revenge against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) and other terrorist groups.

No matter what results the probe will yield, it won’t return the dozens of victims — gifted musicians, journalists and the woman who dedicated her life to saving distressed people.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.