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Chatting with my Chinese friend (10): Putin's decision to suspend flights to Egypt might be the smart move

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

11-17-2015 16:46 BJT

By H.Karoui, Middle East expert

Why did Putin suspend flights to Egypt? My friend Yu asked.

I said, as long as the self-proclaimed "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" (ISIS)  terrorist group confined its military operations to those two countries, the major Western powers – although shocked by its barbaric ways – did not really feel an immediate danger in the same way as al-Qaeda.


But after attacks on two international targets – the Russian plane and Paris –it seems timely to come up with fresh theories about how to deal with a threat that is no longer regional.

Listening to its Arab allies in the Gulf, including Iraq, the United States managed to form a loose coalition whose main mission was limited to air raids on ISIS targets inside Syria and Iraq. Maybe the Americans thought their raids were helping the Iraqi government or the anti-Bashar al-Assad opposition in Syria fighting against an expansionist and ruthless ISIS. But results were thin and confusion increased when Russia went after terrorist groups in Syria. Some of those groups, notably the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, are allied to Arab Gulf states who want to get rid of Bashar al-Assad – even if that means paying al-Qaeda to do it for them. Of course the US, the West and Russia did not agree on this approach. Hence the emergence of political divergences between Washington and its Arab Gulf allies over priorities and objectives. Remember these issues arose at the same time as Metrojet Airbus A321 crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, losing all 224 passengers and crew.

Yu said, we were first asked to believe that this plane crash was a technical accident: unprecedented in the history of civil aviation. But this version of events was quickly dismissed as unacceptable by the Russian airline company. What really happened?

I replied, the plane took off from the Sinai Peninsula's Sharm el-Sheikh, a popular destination for Russian tourists, and disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes after takeoff.

How could a plane disappear from the radar? Yu puzzled.

I said, that's a big question. The plane also reportedly split into two, a small part on the tail end that burned and a larger part that crashed into a rock. It is really farfetched to imagine a "technical fault" could split a plane in the sky. There is nothing that could do this, but a missile…

Or an explosive device inside the plane ... Are the Egyptians still clinging to a "technical malfunction" and refusing to accept the possibility of a terrorist attack? asked Yu.

Yes, I said, because of the disastrous consequences of such a plot for tourism in Egypt.

Do you think ISIS did it? They claimed the attack as retaliation against Russia, said Yu.

Well, I said, since the crash more indices point to the bomb hypothesis. The UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond stated there is a "significant possibility" the plane was brought down by an explosion onboard. The British government has suspended all flights between the UK and the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Within hours of the UK announcement, mainstream media reported an anonymous US official saying the latest intelligence suggested a bomb was planted on the plane by ISIS or one of its affiliates.

Yu argued, but the real surprise happened when President Vladimir S Putin suspended all flights from Russia to Egypt. Russian officials did not say whether the decision to suspend flights was based on new information from the investigation. They said only that the safety of Russian citizens was paramount.

I said,that is a sound argument, but actually not sound enough for the Egyptians who believed they were – after Bashar al-Assad’s supporters – Russia's best allies in the Middle East. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is certainly unhappy with the Russian decision as he supported Putin's decision to go after the terrorists in Syria.

Yu, you asked me a while ago, what appear to be the best hypotheses for Putin's decision?

I think the hypotheses are as follows:

1. A plane in the sky, by definition, cannot disappear off the radar screen unless somebody who understands electronics must make that happen: somebody working with the Egyptian radar authorities.

2. If we admit a plane cannot split in two, even with a malfunction, we have to admit the theory of the bomb.

3. To place a bomb on a plane before takeoff, any terrorist needs at least two things: technical knowhow and efficient local complicities.

4. A lone wolf cannot perform such a task.  The terrorist needs resources and logistics or in other words, a network inside Egypt to at least  facilitate his mission at the airport.

5. Accomplices do not need to line up politically with ISIS or any other Jihadi group. They just need to turn a blind eye or smooth the way for the right price. Of course, if they assisted for political reasons, then the case is much more serious. We  know that President Sisi has powerful opponents inside his country and abroad. Such opponents would not hesitate to support an operation that would undermine his relationship with Putin.

6. Finally, if you assume that the plane could not be downed without some local help, from infiltrated agents, would you still want to fly to Egypt from Moscow if you were Russian?

Is that what really happened? This is my last question, said Yu.

I said, maybe we will know more in the next few days.



( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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