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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: June 9, 2015

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
'Overstretched' Russian Air Force Suffers Multiple Accidents

Last week on June 4, an SU-34 bomber that had just completed a training mission skidded to a stop on a runway in Voronezh Region, then fell over, Vesti reported. The Russian Defense Ministry said that a parachute failed to open on the brakes. There were only two pilots on board and neither was injured.

The imagined spectacle of a Russian bomber on its side got a lot of press (although Russian media didn't obtain any pictures), but it didn't seem to be indicative of anything in particular. Russia has many plane accidents and air crashes and a reputation as having among the world's worst airlines, just as it has car crashes and factory accidents due to poor safety culture and negligence.

But now three more accidents have occurred with the Russian air force, and the phenomenon is getting more attention.

1. A TU-95 "Bear" ignited while on a practice flight, one crew member died, another has been seriously burned and three have been released from the hospital, Newsweek reported.

2. A MiG-29 "Fulcrum" multirole fighter jet crashed near a practice ground in Astrakhan Region due to a technical problem. Both pilots ejected unharmed.

3. A SU-34 "Fullback" fighter jet went down during a practice fight sustaining "serious damage"  in the Voronezh Region.

The Bear and Fulcrum are Soviet design; the Fullback  is the newest aircraft of the Russian air force, produced in 1993.

Says Newsweek:

According to Dr Igor Sutyagin, Russian military expert at the UK's Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), these recent incident could indicate that Russia's recent military sabre rattling is taking its toll.

"This could be an interesting sign of the overstretching of Russian armed capabilities, because the maintenance template for these vehicles does not take into account the much higher operational tempo they have been operating under lately," Sutyagin says.

"The Bear bomber jets for example are designed for a single strike on missions not for extended training flights," he concluded.

While they involve military training, these incidents aren't related directly to the Ukrainian war, which has not been an air war since last  summer when Ukrainian bombers fired on buildings occupied by Russian-backed separatists after they launched border raids, but had to endure a major outcry when civilians were killed. Then the separatists acquired more anti-aircraft capacity, shooting down several Ukrainian military cargo planes in June and July, until finally on July 17, they downed MH17, a passenger plane, in the mistaken belief it was a Ukrainian AN-26. Neither side has used planes in the war since then.

But Russia's military plane accidents could be related to the "hybrid war" in general and the attack on the West, as there have been hundreds of buzzings and even encroachments of European countries' airspace and also some incidents with US planes.

Russian Bear bombers have been spotted off the UK coast over the last year and Nato's Baltic Air Police has previously intercepted Su-34 jets. Russian defence minister Sergei Shoygu boasted in March that Russia could afford to extend its programme of unannounced flyovers, despite protests from Nato and EU members.

For now, the TU-95s will be grounded.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Nemtsov's Eldest Daughter Goes Abroad, Citing Climate of Hatred

Zhanna Nemtsova, the eldest daughter of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, has gone abroad, citing a climate of hatred in Russia, AFP reports.

"Russian propaganda kills," Zhanna Nemtsova, 31, wrote in a column published by Russia's liberal business daily Vedomosti.

"Many of the texts of Kremlin-controlled media recall the rhetoric of African propagandists," she said, stressing that state propaganda played a crucial role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

"Putin's information machine -- similar to those in Nazi Germany and Rwanda -- is using criminal methods of propaganda, and sowing hatred which generates violence and terror."

Nemtsova, herself a journalist with Russian business news TV channel RBK, warned that aggression towards dissenters fanned by state media could spin out of control and claim new victims in the future.

"People infected with hatred begin committing new crimes on their own initiative."

A number of Nemtsov's colleagues and friends have made the same point since his assassination on February 27. In April, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr. went to Washington to speak to members of Congress about a list of Russian state media propagandists who they said vilified Nemtsov repeatedly, calling him a "fifth columnist," which in their view made it possible for his murder to be commissioned. They wanted the US to ban the journalists on this list for such incitement.

The campaign didn't get any traction due to First Amendment concerns, and the figures on the list retaliated by accusing them of suppressing speech.

On May 26, Kara-Murza, Jr. was rushed to the hospital with suspected poisoning and remains in serious condition. His relatives and family believe that he could have been deliberately given a toxic substance because he had no complaints about his health before he suddenly fell ill. There is a history of poisoning of opposition figures disliked by the Kremlin. Kara-Murza's involvement in the targeting of the Putin regime's propagandist and his subsequent illness fueled the sense that "propaganda kills."

For Russians, these state media hate campaigns take place in a climate where there is significant censorship and pressure on independent press so it is difficult to counter them.

Propagandists even put up billboards or hang enormous signs vilifying opposition leaders as "traitors" or "fifth columnists," such as these, covered by Yod News:


Casting the problem only in terms of the West's values for free speech obscures the problem of Russian state media which is "weaponizing" information" and also the absence of ethics in journalism.

According to Novaya Gazeta, Nemtsova told the Times that she was in shock from Kara-Murza's illness and also blamed Putin for her father's death:

The former journalist has accused the Russian leader of being “politically responsible” for the killing of her father, a former deputy prime minister, who was shot within sight of the Kremlin in February. She has also criticised the official investigation into the murder.

While 5 Chechens have been arrested as suspects, the organizer of the murder, Ruslan Geremeyev has evaded interrogation and reportedly fled Russia. said Nemtsova did not reveal her whereabouts or give any indication of when she might return.

Nemtsov's two other daughters and a son remain in Russia.

In her piece for Vedomosti, Nemtsov cites "African propagandists" for a reason; the only case in international law where speech has been prosecuted as "incitement to imminent violence" is at the Rwanda tribunal in the Hague, involving three individuals who used the radio "to desensitize the Hutu population and incite them to murder the Tutsi population in Rwanda in 1994."

Writes Nemtsova (translation by The Interpreter):

 Many texts of media under the control of the Kremlin are reminiscent of the rhetoric of African propagandists. The place of the Tutsi in them is held by the liberals, opposition members, the West, the "Kiev junta," and the role of the Hutu is performed by the "patriots of Russia." For a rather long time the civilized world did not react to what has been going on in the information space of Rwanda (the story is being repeated with Russia) and did not acknowledge the activity of Rwanda propagandists as a crime.

The issue is not just the bad-faith work of some media. The Putin information machine, like the Nazi and Rwanda machines, uses criminal methods of propaganda, sows hatred, which causes violence and terror. The main method is the dehumanization of the group attacked. Russia opposition members are portrayed in Putin's media as "alien" on the analogy of monsters from a warrior with the same name. The dehumanization enables the simplifying of the crossing of the moral boundary, the removal of the internal prohibition on murder. From an attitude of groups in the population as not like other people, but as "aliens" or "cock-roaches" or "national traitors" it is one step to murder of the undesirables.

Recently in a speech in Poland, Nemtsova called for sanctions against such propagandists.

It may be easier in Europe, with more curbs on free speech, to get support for sanctions; the EU has already placed Dmitry Kiselyev, the Kremlin's chief TV propagandist, on the sanctions list for his role in the annexation of Crimea.

While it is hard to prove in an international tribunal the causal connection between incitement and actual murder cases, it is easier to document the climate of hatred that has caused Russian intellectuals to leave the country, not only due to fear of physical reprisals but due to lack of free speech.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick