Russia Analytical Report, May 6-13, 2019

This Week’s Highlights:

  • In separate articles, professor Nikolas Gvosdev and reporter Emily Tamkin write that Russia stands to benefit from the United States’ increased tensions with Iran.
  • President Trump’s new initiatives on arms control, involving both Russia and China, should be lauded, but he must avoid “going big too soon” and, instead, should take a more measured approach, beginning with extending New START and then “expanding and deepening nuclear reductions with Russia” before bringing in China, according to veteran arms control negotiators Richard Burt and Jon Wolfsthal.
  • Is Russia really increasing the number of its non-strategic nuclear weapons, asks nonproliferation expert Hans Kristensen? Or is the Pentagon exaggerating with “a perfect threat-funding-loop sales pitch”?
  • Recent history shows that governments can ignore robust opposition to NATO membership among their voters, but Ukraine’s new leader likely won’t be able to do the same—because of Russia. Daniel Shapiro writes for Russia Matters.
  • The Washington Post editorial board describes a lawsuit brought by three groups seeking to force President Trump to follow laws governing official record-keeping, which would presumably include keeping detailed records of face-to-face meetings with his Russian counterpart.
  • In order to avoid “needless conflict” perhaps it’s time for Washington to offer Moscow a “sensible agreement” on spheres of influence in their immediate neighborhoods—namely, the Western hemisphere and Eastern Europe, writes Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute.
  • Rumors about the reasons for the high death toll after this month’s Sukhoi Superjet crash are fueling fury in Russia—in part, because people there have long stopped believing that officials will divulge the true causes of accidents, according to columnists Maria Zheleznova and Vladimir Ruvinsky.

I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

“Russia Is the Real Winner in Any US-Iran conflict,” Nikolas Gvosdev, The Hill, 05.09.19The author, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, writes:

  • “As a crisis looms between Washington and Tehran, Moscow is poised to reap the benefits—as long as it can limit the damage. … Not only are Russian companies poised to gain additional market share as customers such as Japan, India, Korea and Italy reduce their purchases from Iran, Russia also emerges as a more reliable, dependable provider of energy to global markets.”
  • “The collapse in Iranian oil exports … allows Moscow to continue its partnership with Saudi Arabia to manage global oil markets, but allows for Russian producers … to increase sales without torpedoing the understanding with Riyadh.”
  • “Turmoil in the Persian Gulf also increases the attractiveness of Russia's northern sea route as a replacement energy and trade corridor. … Having the United States become embroiled in a new Middle Eastern crisis also suits Russian strategic plans.”
  • “To gear up for a major conflict with Iran, the U.S. would be forced to de-emphasize Europe's eastern flank, allowing Russia more time and breathing space to consolidate its position. … We can expect Russia to use the threat of an Iran-U.S. conflict to insert itself as the responsible mediator, and to position Russia, as it has done in Syria, as the indispensable mediator.”

“Why Russia Is the Big Winner of the Iran Deal Fallout,” Emily Tamkin, The Washington Post, 05.08.19The author, a reporter for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Iran announced Wednesday [May 8] that it would stop complying with certain elements of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal, in 60 days if the remaining signatories did not find a way to make the deal more economically beneficial to Iran.”
  • “[T]he United States leaving the deal gave Russia the opportunity ‘to have its cake and eat it, too,’ Matthew Rojansky, director of the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, wrote. ‘Moscow was a pivotal player in negotiating the original agreement, for which it enjoyed quite a lot of credit. . . . Now that the U.S. has pulled out, Moscow can blame Washington for its impending failure, part of its broader critical narrative about the U.S. in the Middle East and globally.’”
  • "‘The price of oil is 30 percent higher than a year ago,’ said Barbara Slavin, director of the Atlantic Council's Future of Iran Initiative, a reality that is at least in part a result of ‘what the Trump administration has done on Iran.’ ‘The Russians can just sit back and enjoy the higher oil prices,’ she said.”
  • “The Russians are enjoying, or at least benefiting from, another side effect of U.S. pressure on Iran, too: a close relationship with Iran. ‘Iran has become an important partner for Moscow, especially given their shared interest in undermining U.S. influence in the Middle East. Russia-Iran relations are stronger than they have been historically,’ wrote Andrea-Kendall Taylor, director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.”
  • “Russia has received economic and geopolitical benefits from what has, for many others, been purely negative. Lavrov's appearance Wednesday with Zarif only underscored that. ‘They don't look isolated,’ Barbara Slavin … said. ‘The United States looks isolated.’”

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • No significant commentary.

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Trump Wants to Negotiate Nuclear Deals. He Should Start With the One He Already Has,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 05.08.19The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Mr. Trump has ‘ordered his administration to prepare a push for new arms-control agreements with Russia and China.’ The exact nature of his order isn't known, but Mr. Trump is right to be concerned that many areas of nuclear weapons and systems to deliver them are not covered by treaties and agreements. Soon, the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and Russia will be history.”
  • “Before Mr. Trump reaches for the moon, he should tackle extension of the 2010 New START accord with Russia … which expires in February 2021. … If Mr. Trump really wants to avert nuclear dangers, this is the place to begin. So far, he hasn't done much.”
  • “A more worrisome prospect is that Mr. Trump is raising the most difficult nuclear arms control challenges because he knows they can't easily be addressed. John Bolton, the national security adviser, has criticized international treaties that tie the hands of the United States and once called the New START limits on weapons launchers ‘profoundly misguided.’”

“How Trump Can Transform Nuclear Arms Control,” Richard Burt and Jon Wolfsthal, The National Interest, 05.10.19: The authors—head of the U.S. delegation that negotiated the 1991 START agreement and a former senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council who helped negotiate New START, respectively—write:

  • “Reflecting on both the dangers and the costs involved in another round of the arms race, the [U.S.] president now says he wants far-reaching new agreements with Russia that would bring China into the process for the first time.”
  • “Trying to halt Russian nuclear modernization and expanding arms control to China is a big idea, and a good one. Especially, in the case of China, however, it is extremely ambitious… Beijing would never accept an outcome that locked it into an inferior status to Washington and Moscow.”
  • “The problem is not with the big idea, but in going big too soon. … Our experience in arms control over the last thirty years suggests a more measured, three-phase approach … can achieve the same outcome albeit on a longer time-scale. … In the first phase, as early as the Osaka G-20 meeting in late June, Trump and Vladimir Putin should agree to the immediate and unconditional extension of the New START accord.”
  • “Extending New START would enable the two sides to quickly enter the second phase—expanding and deepening nuclear reductions with Russia. The goal should be to reduce American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads down to approximately 1000 each.”
  • “A new U.S.-Russian negotiation would also need to address additional issues of concern for both parties. For Washington, this would include Russia’s considerable advantage in shorter-range ‘sub-strategic’ weapons that threaten our allies in Europe and Asia and our forces deployed abroad. Moscow, for its part, will want to limit U.S. missile defense systems, as well as a new generation of conventionally armed, precision-strike weapons.”
  • “None of this will be easy and … a new American-Russian agreement could take years to achieve. But if the two sides are able to reduce their strategic offensive forces … while also expanding limits to include tactical weapons and missile defense systems, then we believe the stage will be set for the third phase of the process, bringing China into the mix.”

“Is the Pentagon Exaggerating Russian Tactical Nuclear Weapons?” Hans Kristensen, Forbes, 05.07.19: The author, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, writes:

  • “Washington is buzzing with warnings that Russia is increasing its number of non-strategic nuclear weapons. … In response, the Trump administration has already begun production of a low-yield nuclear warhead … that will arm the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines from next year. And it is pursuing the development of a new tactical nuclear sea-launched cruise missile.”
  • "But is Russia actually increasing the number of its non-strategic nuclear weapons? In stark contrast with the NPR claim, I hear there’s no significant increase in the total numbers. On the contrary, there has been a significant reduction over the past ten years – the very period the NPR uses as the basis for its threat assessment. … [I]n February 2018, the Trump administration’s NPR reported that Russia had 'an active stockpile of up to 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons…' That’s is close to the estimate we have made here at FAS for the past several years."
  • "[T]hat is not an increase but a significant reduction of more than 1,000-3,000 tactical warheads over ten years. … This discrepancy between the significant reduction of Russian tactical nuclear warheads over the past ten years and the NPR’s alarming portrayal of a dangerous increase is deeply disturbing. Not only does it apparently mischaracterize what Russia is actually doing … it seems to distort what the U.S. intelligence community knows, for the apparent purpose of creating political support in Congress to pay for new nuclear weapons."
  • "[T]here is no doubt that Russia is modernizing its non-strategic nuclear weapons and introducing new or modified types; so is the United States. … But Russia is also retiring old non-strategic nuclear weapons; it’s in a transition between old and new types that creates fluctuations in the estimate. And its military strategy relies more on such weapons to compensate for Russia’s inferior conventional capabilities … as well as to make up for what otherwise would be a sizeable deficit in the overall balance of Russian and U.S. nuclear warheads."
  • “So, members of Congress, next time STRATCOM or DOD comes to brief you on Russian tactical nuclear weapons and claim they are increasing and the United States is at a disadvantage so you have to give them more money to buy new ones, don’t just take it at face value but ask them where they get their numbers from. … Oh, and don’t forget to ask them to explain why we need more new nuclear weapons to counter a Russian non-strategic nuclear arsenal that is significantly smaller today than a decade ago.”


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

“Russia’s Military Gamble in Syria Is Paying Off Handsomely,” The Economist, 05.12.19: The magazine writes:

  • “Russia is elated with its victory [in Syria]. It saved Mr. Assad at relatively small cost to itself, became the kingmaker in Syria and returned as a power-broker in the Middle East for the first time since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. … Most important, breaking America’s hegemony in the Middle East shows that Russia is not merely a ‘regional power,’ as Barack Obama once put it, but a global one.”
  • “Russia has surprised itself with its prowess. … ‘The military success was much bigger than anyone expected,’ says Fyodor Lukyanov, a foreign-policy adviser to the Russian government, ‘Russia demonstrated in Syria that it has a degree of efficiency in using military force, compared with the two previous experiences in Georgia and Ukraine. Politically, it was an even bigger surprise.’”
  • “Moscow has turned into a center for Middle Eastern diplomacy. … Strikingly, Russia has been able to keep friends with all sides of the region’s bitter rivalries: Israel and Iran; Turkey and the Kurds; Saudi Arabia and Qatar. For Russian military commanders, the war in Syria has been a proving ground for new tactics and weapons, and a showcase for arms exports.”
  • “[T]here is a new swagger about Russia in the wider world. … These days it is America that complains of Russia meddling in its sphere of influence, not the other way around. … Kremlin-watchers reckon little of all this had been in Mr. Putin’s mind when he ordered his forces into Syria. His priority had been to avert the collapse of Mr. Assad’s regime, and the risk that Syria might become an exporter of jihadism to Russia. Another reason was to break out of the diplomatic isolation he faced over Ukraine.”
  • “How did Russia succeed where others failed? In part, it absorbed the lessons of America in Iraq, relying mostly on its air power and on local proxies on the ground … It also drew on the experience of Arabists nurtured by the late Yevgeny Primakov, a former foreign and prime minister.”
  • “Perhaps the main reason that Russia can talk to all players in the region is that it is not America. … If the region’s rulers are flirting with Russia, it is mostly to regain America’s commitment. … [T]he power that Mr. Putin tries to project abroad, in the hope that it will enhance his standing at home, is brittle. The multipolar world he has sought to bring about may yet leave Russia on the sidelines; it boasts neither the military power of America nor the economic strength of China.”

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“Russia Is Targeting Europe’s Elections. So Are Far-Right Copycats,” Matt Apuzzo and Adam Satariano, New York Times, 05.12.19The authors, a reporter and a correspondent for the news outlet, write:

  • “Less than two weeks before pivotal elections for the European Parliament, a constellation of websites and social media accounts linked to Russia or far-right groups is spreading disinformation, encouraging discord and amplifying distrust in the centrist parties that have governed for decades.”
  • “European Union investigators, academics and advocacy groups say the new disinformation efforts share many of the same digital fingerprints or tactics used in previous Russian attacks, including the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign … Russia remains a driving force, but researchers also discovered numerous copycats, particularly on the far right. Those groups often echo Kremlin talking points, making it difficult to discern the lines between Russian propaganda, far-right disinformation and genuine political debate.”
  • “Russia dismisses accusations of meddling. ‘The election has yet to come, and we are already suspected of doing something wrong?’ the Russian prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev, said in March. ‘Suspecting someone of an event that has not yet happened is a bunch of paranoid nonsense.’”
  • “In Germany, the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, gets strong support from both official Russian government media and unofficial pro-Russian channels. But … the Kremlin also appeared to amplify messages from AfD’s staunchest opponents … That would underscore what analysts say is Russia’s true interest—sowing political discord in democracies, regardless of ideology.”
  • “‘The importance of Europe is it’s a test bed,’ said Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab who studies misinformation in Europe. ‘It’s really an indicator of the number of different ways people may be trying to meddle.’”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“President Trump’s Penchant for Secrecy Is About to be Tested in Court,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 05.12.19The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Among the mysteries surrounding President Trump’s conduct, one of the strangest is his penchant for meeting President Vladimir Putin of Russia without aides or interpreters, contrary to the practice of past presidents. The Post’s Greg Miller has quoted U.S. officials as saying there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Mr. Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years, and in one case, Mr. Trump seized the notes made by an interpreter who was present.”
  • “Three groups have brought a lawsuit seeking to force Mr. Trump and his advisers to follow the laws that govern presidential and federal agency records. So far, they allege, the president has failed to do so.”
  • “In addition to Mr. Trump’s meetings with Mr. Putin, the groups question in their lawsuit whether an adequate record exists of the president’s conversations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, or of senior White House aide Jared Kushner’s meetings with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

“Striking a Deal With Russia on Spheres of Influence,” Ted Galen Carpenter, The National Interest, 05.12.19: The author, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest, writes:

  • “U.S. leaders appear to exaggerate the extent of Moscow’s meddling [in Venezuela]. Given [Nicolas] Maduro’s uncompromising behavior throughout the most recent demonstrations, the notion that he was ready to flee the country absent Russian intervention seems far-fetched.”
  • “The loyalty of Venezuela’s military has not yet wavered, and he continues to draw support from left-wing citizens’ militias. Those factors have been more relevant to his continued grip on power than Russian (or any other foreign) support. … Nevertheless, Russia definitely has meddled in Venezuela’s political turbulence. Moscow is a major financial prop for Maduro’s government, and the Kremlin has provided tangible military backing as well.”
  • “The United States has insisted on maintaining a sphere of influence in the Western Hemisphere since the proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine in the 1820s. Russia’s policy in Venezuela represents a direct challenge to that doctrine.”
  • “The Trump administration should insist that Russia respect the Monroe Doctrine and confine its Venezuelan ties to normal diplomatic and economic relations. At the same time, it is essential for U.S. officials to acknowledge that the United States and its NATO allies have shown contempt for Russia’s sphere of influence—and even its core security zone—in Eastern Europe.”
  • “The ingredients, therefore, exist for a sensible agreement embodying needed restraint on both sides. U.S. leaders should inform the Russian government that they are willing to end their quest to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO and to cease all military connections with Kiev and Tbilisi… Washington also should offer to end its ‘rotational’ deployment of troops, planes, and warships in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea.”
  • “As a tradeoff, the Trump administration should insist that Moscow greatly dilute its involvement in Venezuela and Cuba; and the administration should suggest that it end a growing flirtation with Nicaragua’s leftist government. … All great powers seek to enforce their writ in their immediate neighborhood, and the avoidance of needless conflict requires a decent respect for that reality.”


“China's Calculus After the INF Treaty,” Wu Riqiang, East Asia Forum/Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 05.08.19The author, a research fellow at the Belfer Center, writes:

  • “The question of whether China should join the INF Treaty is frequently mentioned in U.S. policy debates. The answer is a clear no.”
  • “China is bounded by four nuclear-armed states. Nuclear land-based ballistic missiles are the backbone of China’s nuclear deterrence. In contrast, the United States does not need INF to deter its neighbors, while Russia has reliable air- and sea-based INF capabilities … China lacks the means for long-range force delivery. From a military perspective, a conventional ballistic missile is not cost-efficient, but China has limited options given its poor naval and air capabilities.”
  • “All the same, the deployment of U.S. nuclear missiles to the West Pacific would have little impact on China’s nuclear deterrence. Currently, the United States has 3800 active nuclear warheads, while China’s total number of nuclear warheads is estimated to be 280. Given the asymmetry, the impact on strategic stability of deploying additional land-based INF would be marginal.”
  • “China’s nuclear deterrence is based on hiding, concealing and maneuvering nuclear missiles, making them difficult to locate. Improvement in U.S. intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and missile defense would undermine China’s nuclear deterrence, but additional land-based INF could not. Politically, the United States re-deploying nuclear missiles in the territory of its East Asian allies would probably be seen by China as a sign of aggressive nuclear posturing and cause strong opposition.”
  • “The deployment of conventional missiles by the United States on the other hand has a limited impact on China’s security, mainly reflected in the increased ability of the U.S. military to attack time-sensitive targets.”


“Ukraine and NATO: Disconnect Between State Policy and Public Opinion Is Less Dangerous Than Russia,” Daniel Shapiro, Russia Matters, 05.09.19. The author, a graduate student associate at Harvard’s Davis Center and Russia Matters, writes:

  • “Newly elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has repeatedly reaffirmed his predecessor’s policy of bringing Ukraine ever closer to Europe and has said that, as a citizen, he supports his country’s accession to NATO. However, unlike Petro Poroshenko, Zelenskiy insists the question of joining the Western military alliance should be decided by a popular referendum.”
  • “Indeed, today the idea of NATO accession is far from universally popular in Ukraine. As Poroshenko’s other political opponents have pointed out, opinion polls consistently show that about a third of Ukrainians oppose entry into the bloc—even after Russia’s military intervention of 2014.” (Table with figures included.)
  • “Governments in plenty of countries—from the Czech Republic and Latvia to the Balkans—have pushed through major foreign policy initiatives such as NATO entry despite formidable opposition among their citizens.”
  • “[However,] inching toward NATO would likely be more dangerous for Ukraine than the policy decisions examined above—not because of the discrepancy between politicians’ decisions and public opinion, but because of Russia: Moscow fears that its neighbor’s ‘escape’ to the West would pose a significant threat to Russian security and today it has both the capacity and the motivation to forcefully prevent Ukraine from implementing a decision to join NATO.”

“Why the Alleged Joe Biden 'Ukraine Conspiracy' Doesn't Hold Up,” Oliver Bullough, The Washington Post, 05.08.19The author, a frequent contributor to the Guardian, writes:

  • “Ukraine needs more of what it has received since its 2014 revolution: Western money, Western support and sustained Western insistence that its rulers keep their promises to clean up their country.”
  • “What it does not need is underinformed dinosaurs wading into its sensitive political ecosystem to make points for domestic American consumption. Unfortunately, this is precisely what is now happening—thanks to President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.”
  • “Almost as long as there have been questions over Trump's Russian dealings, there have been rival questions about former vice president Joe Biden's role in post-revolutionary Ukraine. … Biden's son Hunter took a job at a Ukrainian oligarch's gas company, known as Burisma, shortly after the 2014 revolution, which was unwise, greedy and rightly criticized at the time. … Joe Biden was the White House's Ukraine enforcer, and it was in this capacity that he forced Ukraine's president to sack an at-best ineffectual prosecutor general as a condition for a billion dollars' worth of loans.”
  • “Hunter Biden should not have taken the job; Joe Biden should probably not have boasted about bullying the president of another country. But those are judgment matters for them personally, not proof of conspiracy, and certainly not an affair worth destabilizing the fragile democracy of a new U.S. ally.”

“How Soviet Game Shows Explain the Popularity of Ukraine’s New President,” Christine Evans, The Washington Post, 05.13.19The author, an associate professor of history, writes:

  • “With little else to draw on, commentators have resorted to comparing him [Volodymyr Zelensky] to other populist protest candidates with backgrounds in television who have won surprise victories, such as Donald Trump, or attributing his election to various dark forces that could be behind him.”
  • “But … none of these scripts fits Zelensky terribly well, nor do they adequately explain his popularity with Ukrainian voters, which cuts across geographic and linguistic divides. There is, however, one central aspect of Zelensky’s background that most English-language commentators have ignored … His show business career began as a competitor on a Soviet and now post-Soviet television game show, ‘KVN,’ that promoted the idea that the intelligentsia was better equipped to rule than existing political leaders. … On television … these shows still present the post-Soviet intelligentsia as distinct from—and, implicitly, morally and intellectually superior to—the current ruling elite.”
  • “[W]hile Zelensky’s path from TV to the presidency does connect him to Trump, each man also reflects the different kind of candidate desired by alienated voters in each country. … Zelensky’s [election] may reflect Ukrainians’ desire to see leaders who are competent and youthful, telegenic but also highly educated, rather than wealthy and thuggish. … Given Zelensky’s modest, ironic charm … and his status as an ethnic and religious minority … the more accurate parallel to draw may be between Zelensky and former president Barack Obama … But unlike Obama, Zelensky is not entirely a darling of the educated elite, some of whom have dismissed him as a clown.”
  • “The question … is whether Zelensky’s presidency can live up to the lofty ideals such as honesty, fair play and meritocracy promoted by Soviet television’s intellectual games and their post-Soviet successors, or whether his presidency will founder amid the same corruption that threatens to discredit any honest game.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Lithuania’s Policy Toward Russia Unlikely to Change Under New President, Expert Says,” TASS, 05.13.19: In a brief analysis the state-run Russian news agency writes:

  • “Lithuania’s policy toward Russia won’t change following the presidential election, president of the Russian Association of Baltic Studies Nikolai Mezhevich told TASS, commenting on the first round of the election, which saw former Finance Minister Ingrida Simonyte and economist Gitanas Nauseda enter a runoff.”
  • “‘Both of them represent the right-wing conservative part of Lithuania’s political spectrum,’ Mezhevich noted, adding that ‘neither Nauseda nor Simonyte will change anything’ for Russia because ‘the foreign policy platform will stay the same. … They both have made it clear they have no wish to build relations with Russia,’ the expert emphasized.”
  • “[A] runoff [is] scheduled to take place in two weeks.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Sukhoi Superjet Crash: How Distrust of Authorities Bred Conspiracies,” Maria Zheleznova and Vladimir Ruvinsky, The Moscow Times, 05.13.19: The authors, columnists for the Vedomosti newspaper, write:

  • “Abundant video footage from the [Aeroflot Sukhoi SuperJet] crash site creates the illusion that there is proof of what happened, and people are already pointing fingers at the supposed culprits. A rumor has spread that the main reason 41 passengers died was because people in the first and business-class sections at the front of the plane delayed the evacuation of those behind them in economy while they salvaged their carry-on luggage.”
  • “Public opinion seems inclined to agree with this version of events, not only because people distrust each other, but also because they doubt the real cause of the disaster will ever be revealed.”
  • “Within a few hours the hatred toward the survivors carrying bags had built to the extent that some were calling for them to be charged with involuntary manslaughter.”
  • “Officials calling for the public to hold back from apportioning blame until the investigation is over are, of course, being reasonable. But society will only listen to these calls if it can be sure the probe will be objective and that the real causes of the tragedy will be made public.”
  • “As social anthropologists Alexandra Arkhipova and Anna Kirziuk [have written] … people are more likely to agree with an anonymous source’s version of events when they lack confidence in official representatives and information. In Russia, this lack of confidence is a tradition.”

Defense and aerospace:

“A National Disappointment: What Went Wrong With the Sukhoi Superjet 100,” Anastasia Dagaeva, Carnegie Moscow Center, 05.13.19: The author, an aviation columnist who has contributed to Forbes, Vedomosti and Harvard Business Review, writes:

  • “The Superjet’s problems began almost as soon as the plane started being developed in the early 2000s. There was much excitement about the creation of what was supposed to be the perfect regional plane. … Boeing acted as the project’s consultant.”
  • “Russia’s state-controlled aircraft maker United Aviation Corporation (UAC) planned to sell 300 aircraft to airlines around the world and start making a profit. … [U]ltimately, this idealized public image was the plane’s downfall. Behind the facade—as with all aviation innovations—was a less appealing story of malfunctions, missed deadlines, defective parts, and engine shortages.”
  • “The project required more and more resources, while UAC’s management and senior government officials preferred not to talk about the problems. … Then the Indonesia crash happened. The tragedy dealt a serious blow to the project: a number of invaluable specialists were killed, including the project’s senior test pilot and chief flight test engineer. Sales negotiations came to a halt, and Putin, the main source of administrative and financial resources, lost interest in the project.”
  • “Government incentives are the only reason Russian airlines purchase the Superjet. But even this support doesn’t make the plane that attractive: foreign analogues get twice as much flight time.”
  • “Aeroflot has the largest Superjet fleet, with 50 planes. ‘Who, if not us, will learn to fly it?’ Aeroflot CEO Vitaly Savelyev told the TASS news agency. ‘Yes, it entails certain expenses and headache. If Aeroflot were a private business, perhaps the shareholders wouldn’t want to do it.’”
  • “[T[he Sukhoi Superjet 100 has long stopped being just another aircraft, and has become a sociopolitical symbol of hope and disappointment. The project launched almost 20 years ago as a dream of conquering the world has turned into a thorn in everyone’s side. It seems that everyone, from government officials to airlines and passengers, is tired of the Superjet.”

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.