Disputes over measures against jetliners skyjacked by terrorists became more active on the eve of Cosmonautics Day and the Day of the Anti-Aircraft Force. Colonel-General Yury Solovyev, commander of the special task units (the former Moscow district of the air and anti-aircraft force), commented on the problems of flight security over Moscow during impending May holidays and the Defender of the Fatherland Day at a press conference on April 7. He said that the Russian military command is prepared to counter air terrorists. Anti-aircraft units and warplanes will shoot down all unauthorized air targets, which fly over Moscow, including jetliners skyjacked by terrorists. At the same time, Yury Solovyev noted that the Russian legislation bans interception of skyjacked jetliners carrying passengers.
Solovyev stated,”I reported this to the military-political command and I think that the decision will be made in the near future.” According to him, decisions to destroy jetliners skyjacked by terrorists will be made by two persons – the defense minister and the commander-in-chief of the Air Force.
In the meantime, this problem caused disputes among politicians and experts. Military prosecutor Alexander Savenkov states that “the legislation in force, including the law on the state border of the Russian Federation, the law on defense and other laws give the military enough powers to solve their tasks linked with protection of the country and citizens from air attacks”.
Victor Ozerov, head of the defense and security committee of the Federation Council, objects. He thinks that Russian society has not yet created the precise legal postulates regarding the destiny of skyjacked jetliners. He noted that the Federation Council recently passed amendments to the law on defense, which regulate the Armed Forces” involvement in the anti-terrorist effort.
Ozerov said, “These amendments let the military use force against violators of the ground and air border. In addition, the bill on countering terrorism reads that skyjacked jetliners may be shot down.”
At the same time he noted that jetliners will not be destroyed right after the ground services receive a mayday. The defense ministry and other departments will pass the instructions, which will regulate anti-aircraft units’ activities in such situations, within the framework of the bill, which will probably be passed during the spring session of the parliament.
Ozerov noted, “Anti-aircraft units will have to force such jetliners to land. Destruction is the last resort.”
Vladimir Vasilyev, head of the Duma security committee, seconded him. He said that the Russian military will soon have the right to shoot down jetliners seized by terrorists. He noted, “We are discussing this issue. The bill on countering terrorism will give such powers to the military. The Duma has passed the bill in the first reading, and is now working on amendments.”
Pavel Krasheninnikov, head of the Duma committee for civil, criminal and arbitration legislation, also thinks that Russian needs the law, which would let the military destroy passenger jetliners seized by terrorists.
He said, “Such a law must be passed but it’s a big question if we will manage to do this before the Defender of the Fatherland Day.”
General of the Army Anatoly Kornukov, former commander-in-chief of the Air Force, noted that the legislation in force already permits the military to destroy skyjacked jetliners.
He noted, “In such situations everything depends on commanders who may or may not give orders to destroy a skyjacked jetliner. Such commanders will be able to prove their case anyway because the legislation does not give definite instructions how to behave in such situations.”
At the same time, Kornukov proposes to make some amendments to the legislation. The expert noted, “The law must oblige commanders to do their duty. Some officials seek to avoid responsibility in such situations. Unfortunately, there are such people.” He noted that only anti-aircraft units must have the right to destroy skyjacked jetliners approaching the Russian capital.
Kornukov noted, “Fighters will not be able to do this because the closest airfield is located in Kursk. We can only rely on anti-aircraft complexes and competent decisions.” He said that scientists focused on creating a special system, which would let them take over control of skyjacked jetliners from the ground, a few years ago.
Lawyer Igor Trunov, who defends the interests of victims of the theater hostage siege in Moscow, thinks that the proposal to destroy skyjacked jetliners is ambiguous but rational.
Trunov said, “It’s very difficult to answer this question. Israel, which suffers from terrorist acts, has not ventured to such radical measures. If a drunken or sick person threatens the crew and the passengers the result may be irretrievable.” At the same time, he noted that if the US had destroyed the skyjacked jetliners on September 11, 2001, fewer people would have perished.
In other words, many Russian politicians and military leaders consider it admissible to shoot down skyjacked jetliners. All they need is a special law. However, it’s unknown how efficient this law will be.