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Russia: Passengers or not, ‘disaster-threatening’ aircraft will be shot down

The Russian defense ministry wants to confirm its authority to shoot down planes that violate the country’s airspace and threaten a major disaster or loss of life, including hijacked airliners.

A draft government decree prepared by the Russian military would change the rules of engagement for aircraft violating the border, which were last reviewed in 1994. The old document explicitly bans an attack on a plane, if it’s known to have passengers or hostages on board.

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The new document, which passed the stage of public feedback, would eliminate the ban and allow taking down aircraft that pose a credible threat to lives or a major environmental disaster and streamlines the procedure for how such use of lethal force can be obtained and implemented.

The change, however, is purely technical since the Russian military are already authorized to use lethal force against civilian aircraft, which was given under the current anti-terrorism legislation. The new decree, which is expected to come into force in February, is meant to eliminate the discrepancy between different parts of the Russian law.

Russia has its own painful history of shooting down civilian aircraft. In 1983, a Korean Airline passenger plane was shot down by the military after straying into Soviet airspace due to pilot negligence. The military commander, who authorized the shoot-down, was acting on a presumption that the plane was a US Boeing RC-135 spy plane collecting intelligence on military bases and that the crew was ignoring commands and warning shots on purpose.

The incident became one of the defining moments of the Cold War. It also had a chilling effect on the Soviet military, which four years later contributed to the success of a feat by German amateur pilot Mathias Rust, who flew his small plane all the way to the Red Square and landed it on one of Moscow’s bridges, pretty much unchallenged by air defenses.

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