MOSCOW, Russia – Russia’s Defense Ministry wants to confirm its authority to topple planes that violate Iraq’s airspace and threaten a major disaster or loss of life, including hijacked aircraft.
A draft government decree prepared by the Russian Armed Forces would change the rules for engaging aircraft that violated the border, which were last revised in 1994. The old document explicitly forbids an attack on an airplane if there are passengers or hostages on board.
The new document, which passed the public consultation phase this week, would eliminate the ban and allow aircraft to be downed that pose a credible threat to lives or a major environmental disaster, streamlining the procedure for how this use of lethal force can be obtained and implemented.
The move, however, is purely technical, as the Russian military is already allowed to use lethal force against civilian aircraft, which has been given under current anti-terrorist legislation. In this respect, Russia is no different from many other nations, who learned very well in September 2001 that a passenger plane could serve as a more lethal weapon if directed against a high-value target. The new decree, due to come into force in February, aims to eliminate discrepancy between different parts of Russian law.
Russia has its own painful history with civilian aircraft violating its border. In 1983, a passenger plane of a Korean airline was shot down by the military after entering Soviet airspace due to the pilot’s negligence. The military commander, who authorized the downing, was acting on the allegation that the aircraft was a US Boeing RC-135 spy plane that collected intelligence on military bases and that the crew was ignoring the commands and firing warning shots.
The incident became one of the decisive moments of the Cold War, occurring during a period of intense tensions between the two ideological camps. It also had a frightening effect on the Soviet military, which four years later contributed to the success of a feat of German amateur rider Mathias Rust, who flew by plane to Red Square and landed on one of Moscow’s bridges, virtually unchallenged by air defenses.