Russian media continued to analyze the reasons behind the crash of the Russian passenger jet in Egypt, as well as the various reactions to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting this tragedy.  

An Orthodox priest  is meeting the aircraft that delivered to Russia bodies of the victims of the plane crash in Egypt. Photo: RIA Novosti

As the investigation continues into the tragedy of the Russian passenger jet on Oct. 31, the Russian media continues to discuss the potential implications of a terrorist attack on a Russian civilian airliner. In addition, the media took a closer look at the historic meeting between the heads of Taiwan and China, as well as the fallout over a controversial decision by one of Russia’s leading aviation regulators.

Investigation into the Russian airliner disaster

Blogger Alexander Lapshin, writing for the website of the Echo of Moscow radio station, wonders why the Russian government keeps denying the terrorist attack scenario, even though many facts point to this possibility. Moreover, this terrorist attack scenario is also the version gaining credence with Russia’s foreign partners. 

Lapshin thinks that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle are afraid of the possible reaction of the Russian population, for whom the war on terrorism in Syria has suddenly come much closer and become more personal.

Moreover, Russia does not wish to put its partner Egypt under fire, as this attack would inevitably lead to massive damage of that country’s image.

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The business newspaper Kommersant considers that the terrorist attack version is nevertheless gradually being alluded to in the public statements being made by Russian leaders, who have already taken a number of steps towards such an unofficial confirmation. 

In particular, following the recent meeting of the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, in which President Putin participated, Russia decided to suspend passenger air services to Egypt, and at the same time is taking steps to bring home Russian tourists from that country (about 70,000 people).

The publication notes that this will not only hit hard the tourism sector of Egypt, but also have a negative impact on Russian aircraft passenger services, which will lose hundreds of passengers every day.

The pro-government Rossiyskaya Gazeta insists that no versions of what happened to the airplane should be excluded from the work of the investigators. Quoting important Russian officials, the newspaper points to the need to patiently wait for the official results of the investigation, and not rely on unverified information and hearsay.

Satirical cartoons depicting the crash of the Russian Airbus

In January 2015, many Russians, along with the entire world, mourned the deaths of French journalists at Charlie Hebdo killed by Islamist extremists, joining the numerous events under the tagline #jesuischarlie (“I Am Charlie”). However, after the Russian jumbo jet crashed in the Sinai, the cartoons this newspaper published depicting the tragedy many Russians considered as blasphemous. 

The situation has been commented on by senior officials of the Russian Federation, and in the Russian Internet, already gaining momentum is the new hashtag – #ЯНеШарли (#IAmNotCharlie).

The business newspaper Kommersant published a compilation of criticisms made by Russian politicians of these caricatures. This included commentary from the head of the International Committee of the Federation Council of Russia Konstantin Kosachev, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Press Secretary of the President Dmitry Peskov, as well as many Russian parliamentarians and officials of different levels. All of them are convinced that these cartoons have nothing to do with art or journalism, but simply aim to increase the ratings of the publication – at the expense of this human tragedy.

Kirill Martynov, editor of the politics and economics section of the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, wonders why Russian society and the political establishment are so sensitive to something published in a rather marginal Western newspaper.

On the one hand, Martynov says that they are focusing on “the lack of spirituality of the West,” which has been definitely shown in these cartoons. However, the author believes the main reason lies somewhere else – Russian society sees itself in Charlie Hebdo, sees its own aggression and their own desire to cash in on the misfortunes of others (the wars in Ukraine and Syria), and very much does not wish to admit this.

The pro-government Channel One considers these cartoons offensive, after all, we are talking about the death of 224 innocent people, about a major tragedy for Russia. The channel put together a selection of reactions, not only of politicians and public figures, but ordinary citizens as well – users of Facebook and Twitter. All of these are outraged by the behavior of the cartoonists, considering this a low and unworthy act for professional journalists.

Meeting of the leaders of China and Taiwan 

The historic meeting on Nov. 7 between the leaders of Taiwan and China was discussed in the Russian media. The leaders of Taiwan and China have not met since 1949, and there is a good reason for this – at issue is whether Taiwan belongs to China or is an independent state, an issue that remains unresolved.

The business newspaper Kommersant said that the main theme of the meeting was the upcoming presidential elections in Taiwan, scheduled for January 2016, which the ruling Kuomintang Party seems destined to lose. In an effort to raise his ratings and the popularity of the Kuomintang Party, Ma Ying-jeou was able to arrange a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, even though a very significant part of the population and the elite of Taiwan are strongly opposed to any contacts with Beijing.

China, stresses the author of the article Mikhail Korostik, is also interested in having the Kuomintang Party remain in power; after all, it has already become almost the main ally of Beijing in Taiwan, being strictly guided by the formula “one country – two systems.”

The independent Slon reported about large-scale demonstrations that took place in Taiwan, protesting against any meeting with the leaders of China. Many Taiwanese believe the move by Ma Ying-jeou is an act of treachery and an attempt to undermine the sovereignty of Taiwan. The protesters even tried to storm the parliament, but were blocked by police.

Problems with Boeing 737 airliners in Russia

On Nov. 5, news came out about a decision made by the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC), composed of representatives from former Soviet republics, to suspend the operating certificates of all Boeing 737 passenger jets on the territory of Russia. The reason behind this move appears to be the Federal Air Transport Agency’s statements about problems encountered in the operation of the Boeing 737s.

However, this news was received with a fair amount of bewilderment in Russia: firstly, the authorities have expressed doubts that the IAC, in principle, has the authority to make such decisions concerning the airspace of a sovereign state, and secondly, a significant part of Russian Boeing 737s are not registered in Russia, but in Bermuda, Ireland, etc. 

Already on Nov. 6, rumors started being spread that this decision had been cancelled, which however was not confirmed by the IAC. Russian journalists tried to get a handle on this complicated story.

 Also read: "Two reasons why ISIS claims to have downed a Russian airliner." 

The tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets points to the presence of total confusion and corruption in the Russian aviation field. Firstly, there are the jurisdictional conflicts that constantly cause problems, when the multitude of supervising authorities (including the Federal Air Transport Agency, IAC, Ministry of Transport, etc.) cannot agree on who is responsible for, and has authority on specific issues. 

Secondly, the newspaper links the revoking of the certifications with the scandalous ruin of Russia’s Transaero Airlines, and as directly being related to the IAC (permanent chairperson of the IAC Tatiana Anodina is the mother of the largest shareholder of Transaero – Alexander Pleshakov).

According to the author of the article, Olga Bozhyeva, this might have been a banal revenge for the failure of her son, because the Federal Air Transport Agency has been expressing its suspicions about the presence of defects in the Boeing 737s since 2013, but previously all these have been ignored. Now, when Transaero Airlines is no more, and its main competitor – Aeroflot – has a huge number of Boeing 737s in its fleet, the IAC has decided to “take revenge” for Transaero’s demise.

The business newspaper Vedomosti also claims that revenge is the motive behind the sudden decision of the IAC. Citing anonymous senior officials, the newspaper points to a cause and effect relationship between the collapse of Transaero and the Pleshakov family, and revocation of operational certificates of the Boeing 737s, so numerous in the fleets of Transaero’s competitors. 

At the same time, the author of the article, Alexander Vorobyov, suggests that this revenge was not very successful, as the powers of the IAC are limited on the territory of Russia, and the fate of the “Boeings” will be decided by the Federal Air Transport Agency.

The business newspaper Kommersant considers the current situation as the result of in-fighting between various aviation authorities. The publication quotes Andrey Kramarenko, an independent aviation expert, who strongly believes that the IAC has created problems for itself in the medium-term perspective, because its certification activities may be deemed as contrary to ICAO standards.

Quotes of the week:

Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for the Russian president, on the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo: “In our country, we have a very succinct word for this – blasphemy. This has nothing to do with democracy, nor with self-expression, nor anything else. This is simply blasphemy.”

Gerard Briard, Chief Editor of Charlie Hebdo, in response to statements by Dmitry Peskov: “For our editorial staff, no such concept exists [blasphemy] – because we are a secular, democratic, and atheistic publication.”

Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for the Russian president, on the various versions for the airliner disaster in the Sinai: “For now, we cannot exclude any version, while at the same time there is no reason to point at any one version as being more or less accurate. This can only be done by the investigation committee.”

Alexander Neradko, head of the Federal Air Transport Agency, on the use of the Boeing 737s: “At present, there exist no grounds for terminating the operations of the Boeing 737s that are registered in other countries – Bermuda, Ireland, or those registered in the State Register of Civil Aircraft of Russia.”

Vadim Lukashevich, aviation expert, former designer at the Sukhoi Experimental Design Bureau: “If the crash can be blamed on mechanical failure, we know how to deal with that. A terrorist attack cannot be handled in the same way.”