THEY ONLY HAD TWENTY SECONDS

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THEY ONLY HAD TWENTY SECONDS

Parlamentskaya Gazeta, July 4, 2002, pp. 1, 7

Russian experts have arrived in Germany to take part in the investigation into the causes of a midair collision between a Tu-154 and a Boeing 757. They will be searching for aircraft fragments and the bodies of passengers and crew, scattered over many kilometers.

According to news agencies, 37 bodies and ten body parts were taken to the Friedrichshafen morgue yesterday.

Meanwhile, more details connected with the accident are coming to light. The accusations against the Russian aircraft’s crew are being refuted. The professional skills of the Russian pilots cannot be doubted. Captain Alexander Gross had accumulated over 12,000 flying hours.

It was also disproved that Russian flight operation services did not inform European air traffic controllers in advance about the route, since this charter flight was unscheduled. Vladimir Rudakov, head of the Air Traffic Security Department at the Civil Aviation Service, emphasized that the route had been coordinated with Western services responsible for air traffic over the territories of their countries. The flight itself was strictly in accordance with the declared route.

The assumption that the Tu-154 was malfunctioning or was not equipped with a safety system was rejected as invalid. The airliner, produced in 1995, had navigation equipment meeting international standards, including a collision prevention system. It remains to be investigated why the equipment – which should prevent collisions without human intervention – failed in this case.

There are many questions for the air traffic control service of Switzerland, which had begun to monitor the flight of the Tu-154 five minutes before the accident occurred.

It seems that the human factor played a role here. A controller in the Zurich Air Traffic Control Center was taking a short break. Thus, the second controller had twice as much work: he had to keep watch over five planes simultaneously. Moreover, the Swiss control tower switched off the ground system warning about possible collisions of planes. This not an unusual practice at night, since air traffic is considered to be not as heavy at this time.

TWO-VOICE UNION

Moskovsky Komsomolets, July 4, 2002, p. 2

Belarus marked its Independence Day yesterday. It was celebrated like a real state holiday. The Belarussian president had never before promoted the idea of national sovereignty. He used to speak about Slavic unity.

Those who have been closely watching the development of Russian-Belarussian relations are puzzled by a strange metamorphosis that has recently taken place: Russia, which was previously rather indifferent about integration, is calling for union; whereas Belarus has begun to speak about sovereignty. Let us try to correlate two statements by President Putin: the first one ruling out the possibility of a second Soviet Union, and another in which he claims that the Russia-Belarus Union must be a single state. What is the reasoning here?

The reasoning becomes clear if we switch from the political aspect of the matter to the economic. Analysts say that when Putin spoke about a second Soviet Union being impossible, he did not mean the political structure of the Russia-Belarus Union, but the precedent of economic relations when the center (Russia) supports its “younger brothers”, whereas the latter have the same rights. The idea of a single state is a hint. If Belarus want to live at the center’s expense without having any responsibilities, it ought to become a region of the Russian Federation. Another option is the European Union principle: each country should contribute based on its abilities and get what its deserves.

Boris Yeltsin, who proposed the union state of Russia and Belarus, was a romantic. His motto was “We are together, that is great!” That is why the agreement on the union state is rather nominal. It provides for equal rights when abilities are unequal. President Putin has a different motto: “We are together. But what does it mean?” The attempt to clarify the nature of the union – and, most importantly, the rights and responsibilities of two independent states – has become a bone of contention over the past month. Belarus is quite satisfied with Russia contributing 70% of the union state’s budget, whereas Belarus provides only 30%. However, it objects to the same proportions of members in the joint parliament. “This is discrimination. Russia would always be able to promote a bill which is advantageous to itself in such a parliament. Our sovereignty will suffer…” Belarus prefers a supranational body – the Supreme Council. Everybody will be equal there, but the decision-making mechanism is entirely unclear. Russia does not want another bureaucratic body with an obscure mission and responsibilities. Its version of the constitution for the Russia-Belarus Union provides for the post of president who will be personally accountable for what happens in the union state.

And, last but not least: there can be an economic alliance without political interaction, but not the reverse. Why have common political establishments in countries with different patterns of economic development and aims? The process of coordinating the Russian and Belarussian economies is making very slow progress. Experts who are negotiating on this say that Belarus is very reluctant to compromise on such issues as a common bank and phasing out state regulation of industry. Again, it is a matter of “infringed sovereignty”.

Still, this doesn’t mean the Russia-Belarus Union is collapsing. It is simply an adjustment process that is going on now. Discrepancies and disputes are quite natural for this process.

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