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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russia Update: November 2, 2015

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
FSB Defuses Explosive Device Found in Militants' Bunker in Ingushetia

The Federal Security Service reported that it had disabled an explosive device found in a bunker of militants in Ingushetia, RBC.ru reported.

On October 31, the National Anti-Terrorist Committee of the Interior Ministry also reported that they had found a bunker with a laboratory to make explosives in Ingushetia, along with 50 kilograms of explosive material. They also found detonators, switches, micro blueprints and mobile telephones used to make bombs.

They said they also found some suicide belts and three buckets of explosive material with projectiles.

The story is the latest in a series of reports from the FSB regarding prevention of terrorist attack by groups associated with ISIS since Russian began a bombing campaign in Syria September 30.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Investigators Travel to North Caucasus to Interrogate Associates of Suspects in Nemtsov Murder

RosBalt.ru reports today that investigators intend to question the fellow servicemen and friends of Ruslan Geremeyev, head of the Sever battalion; Zaur Dadayev, chief suspect in the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov; and Ruslan Mukhudinov and Belsan Shavanov, the alleged accomplice in the murder.

A court ruled last week that there was no need to question Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and his close associates in the Nemtsov murder case.

Investigators have also traveled to Ingushetia to question Dadayev's mother and brother, a source in law-enforcement told RosBalt.ru. They are also speaking with officers who seized Dadayev in March 2015 in Ingushetia. Next, they plan to head to neighboring Chechnya to question Ruslan Mukhudinov and Ruslan Geremeyev.

The investigators intend to question Mukhudinov; Geremeyev was rumored to have fled Russia (translation by The Interpreter):

The previous attempt to talk with the acquaintances of a number of suspects in the case took place in a rather strange setting. On March 7, 2015, people in masks and spetsnaz uniforms seized Umar Geremeyev, an officer of the local police precinct in Shelkovsky District, who knew Ruslan Geremeyev well and had been friends with Ruslan Mukhudinov since childhood. He had even seen Mukhudinov in Chechnya after the Nemtsov murder.
As [Umar] Geremeyev himself wrote in in his own report later, unidentified men put him on the floor of the car, tied his hands, drove him around for more than an hour, and then stopped at a lean-to. Mukhudinov and his friends had often picnicked at this shed and had stayed the night.

The people in masks had expected to find Mukhudinov in the shed, but he wasn't there. According to Umar Geremeyev, they began to demand that they tell him where Ruslan was, threatening to shoot him, and put a grenade on his back. When they didn't get the information they needed, they left. Once freed, Umar Geremeyev wrote a report to his bosses which was sent to open up a case in the military investigative department at the Grozny Military District. For more than 7 months, the pre-investigation probe was extended over and over, and no decision was made as to whether to open a case or not.


Later investigators attempted to send summonses to Geremeyev and Mukhudinov via Georgy Ivonin, senior investigator for Shelkovsky District. Their relatives said they didn't know where they were. They also sent queries for character references on the pair from the local government. Through this probe, it was discovered that both Ruslans had been close friends since childhood, and Geremeyev made Mukhudonov, who drove him around in foreign-made all-terrain vehicles, a member of the Sever unit.

A source told Rosbalt that these efforts by the Investigative Committee were made to tie Geremeyev and Mukhudinov to the murder, although so far they can only tie them to each other, not to the murder per se.

As we reported last week, in a separate development, members of the Sever battalion of the Chechen branch of the Interior Ministry troops who were already jailed in the Yamadayev murder have been brought to Moscow for interrogation in a number of cases, including the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

Since March, no official has made a formal statement of the progress of the murder investigation, and all news in the Russian media has been obtained from anonymous and sometimes contradictory sources.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Investigator Says Crashed Russian Plane 'Not Struck From Outside' But Metrojet Rep Says Terrorism Possible

When the Russian Metrojet Flight 7K9268 crashed into the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt on Saturday, October 31, killing all 224 people on board, ISIS took credit for the downing, Russian and Egyptian officials denied that it was a terrorist attack, and conflict reporters on social media got to work debunking the theory that MANPADS could have been launched to shoot down the plane.

Russian Ministry of Transportation quickly denied that there was any evidence of terrorism.


Yet now the Russian airliner, Metrojet, has denied that either technical fault nor pilot error are to blame, and has hinted that "external influences" may have been responsible.

Elijah J. Magnier (@EjmAlrai) said the rapid descent excluded the theory that the plane was shot down by a man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS), shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) which could be wielded by terrorists. According to Wikipedia, MANPADS like the Russian 9K38 Igla have a maximum flight ceiling of 3.5 kilometers, and even more sophisticated systems like the American FIM-92 Stinger have a maximum range of about  3600-4600 meters (12,000 to 15,000 feet), so aircraft flying at 6,100 meters (20,000 feet) are "relatively safe" from MANPADS. The Metrojet was flying at about 31,000 or 32,000 feet according to some reports, well above the altitude where MANPADS could be effective.


Range and ceiling of weapons systems can be confusing, because they have the vertical range (the flight ceiling) and then the lateral range which is typically called the operational range. But by any or all of these numbers, the MANPADS could not reach the Russian jet.

ISIS is not believed to have a Buk, the Russian-made rocket system used by the Russian-backed separatists to shoot down MH17 in July 2014, which is capable of reaching targets further, up to 25,000 meters (82,000 feet), nor do they possess any similar systems.

Experts noted that when a plane suddenly breaks up mid-air, it is usually due to catastrophic weather, a mid-air collision, or an external threat such as a missile, says AP. Since there is no indication of another flight in the vicinity nor of severe weather, investigators are looking at such things as an on-board fire or corrosion that could have caused a structural failure, AP reported.

Bloomberg said that the breakup midair was "a puzzle in the modern jet era" and said investigators would look at cockpit conversations and analysis of the debris field to determine the factors that went into a high-altitude disintegration.

Investigators probing the crash of an Airbus Group SE jetliner in Egypt will focus on how a plane built to withstand extreme turbulence and equipped with devices meant to prevent flight maneuvers that might break it apart could have been ripped to pieces in midair.

With the spread of wreckage across the desert suggesting a high-altitude disintegration that could stem from structural failure or an on-board explosion, Russian carrier Metrojet said Monday that early evidence points to some sort of “mechanical impact.” The U.S. said there’s no direct evidence of a terror link.

Authorities analyzing Saturday’s crash have an advantage over recent high-profile probes, with the impact zone readily accessible, the debris field unencumbered by jungle or water and flight recorders already recovered. Taken together, those factors could greatly ease the complex task of explaining the loss


Clive Irving argues in The Daily Beast that Russian media footage of the wreckage may prove that a mechanical failure, not a missile or bomb, caused the plane to break up in mid air.

While nobody can yet be sure of the cause, new images from the crash site confirm that the main part of the wreckage and the tail section were three miles apart. The aerial footage taken by RT shows the wings to have been intact on impact.

This reinforces the belief that the tail was severed from the rest of the airplane at the point when it broke up and fell separately.

The main wreckage shows evidence of being consumed by fire caused by fuel in the main tanks igniting—whether in the air or on impact cannot yet be determined. But—significantly—the tail section shows no sign of fire or smoke damage.

This could be the most important clue to the initial break-up. If a bomb or other kind of explosive device ripped open the fuselage at the tail, then it would have left signature evidence of flame and scorching on the wreckage.


Don't Believe Russian Airline's New Excuse for Crash

A spokesman for the Russian airline Kogallymavia, or Metrojet, whose jet crashed in Egypt, said Monday that the cause was "external influences." But within hours, an investigator told Reuters that there is no evidence of an external impact on the Airbus 321 and that the pilot did not make a distress call.

View full page →
Nov 03, 2015 00:23 (GMT)
Metrojet 9268 took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with mainly vacationers on board en route to St. Petersburg in Russia, and was flying at 31,000 feet when contact was abruptly lost.

Flightradar published a report showing the tracking of the aircraft until 04:13:22 UTC and noted that the Metrojet pilots did not send any "Squawk 7700" or notification or emergency or distress.

The Metrojet airliner, an Airbus A321 was manufactured in 1997 and had some repairs done on it in the past, notably in 2001 after a "tail strike" caused significant damage during a landing in Cairo. At least two air crashes have been attributed to improper fixes to tail damage, says Bloomberg.

Russian aviation history is full of airplane disasters and mechanical or pilot failure is always the most likely explanation for this type of crash.

Yet in a briefing yesterday, the airline denied pilot error or systems failure as a definitive explanation for the crash, Bloomberg reported.

Metrojet said Monday that there was no evidence to suggest that the crash had stemmed from a maintenance issue, pilot error or a systems failure.
“It could have been anything,” Alexander Smirnov, deputy general director for Kogalymavia, known by the Metrojet brand, told reporters at a briefing in Moscow. “The only reasonable explanation may be a mechanical impact on the aircraft.” He declined to comment on the possibility of a terrorist attack.

Smirnov said the plane dropped 186 mph and about 5,000 feet one minute before it crashed, the Guardian reported:

According to Smirnov, the plane dropped 186mph in speed and about 5,000 ft in altitude one minute before it crashed. “This isn’t flying, it’s falling. Apparently, the plane sustained damage before this [and] that became the reason for the fall,” Smirnov said.

The fact that the crew did not attempt to contact ground services meant the plane had “completely lost operational capabilities when the catastrophic situation began to develop” and was not able to put out a distress signal, Smirnov said. Passengers most likely died from stresses experienced after the plane broke up, he added.


US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said while there was no immediate evidence of terrorism, and said it was "unlikely" but that he didn't rule out the ability of Islamic State to shoot down airliners, noting that ISIS had "a very aggressive" presence in Sinai, said US News and World Report.

RBC.ru has cited a number of Russian and Egyptian experts on terrorism who point out that while there are Islamist militant in the Sinai despite efforts of the Egyptian military to counter them, they are believed not to have the capacity to shoot down an airplane.

Experts have also pointed to the possibility of an explosion in an aircraft fuel tanks, as occurred with TWA Flight 800 which crashed into the Atlantic near New York City in 1996, says Bloomberg.

Germany, Qatar and other countries rerouted their flights away from the area, however, indicating that the "mechanical failure" explanation is not sufficient for practical concerns given Russia's launching of airstrikes in Syria September 30, AP reported.

The latest report from Reuters indicated the plane was not struck from the outside, citing a source in the committee analyzing the flight recorders recovered from the black boxes. Russian and Egyptian experts as well as German and French specialists from Airbus and from Ireland where the aircraft was registered are examining the black boxes. 

Intelligence agencies were reviewing a copy of the passengers' list.

The plane was last given a mechanical inspection on October 26 and no problems were found, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, grieving relatives and supporters met the first planeload of 144 victims at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Airpor, bearing flowers and toys in memory of the 224 adults and children on board, Gazeta.ru reported. A second plane is due to leave tonight to repatriate the remainder of the bodies.

Uber offered free transportation to relatives of the victims to and from the airport and Yota is providing free phone service to Egypt, said Gazeta.ru.

President Vladimir Putin declared a day of mourning. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "no theory could be ruled out" regarding the possibility of a terrorist attack. 

Russian social media has been furiously discussing the possible reasons for the flight's crash, citing technical details as well as outlandish conspiracies.

Russian with inside knowledge of the Kursk submarine sinking, Eugeny Kuznetsov of PBK in Moscow said on his Facebook page that in the first two hours of any disaster, officials usually know the reason for the disaster.


Yet they allow all kinds of conspiracy theories to fester to avoid taking responsibility for human error or mechanical failure under their control, he explained.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, James Miller

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