Until now, the Russian government has pushed back against Western intelligence on the cause of the Metrojet crash in the Sinai. David Cameron and Barack Obama both cited their intel sources to say that the likely explanation was a bomb on board the chartered flight from Sharm el-Sheikh, but Russian authorities claim that the conclusion was premature.
BREAKING: Russian President Putin has agreed to a recommendation to suspend all Russian flights to Egypt.
— The Associated Press (@AP) November 6, 2015
Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to suspend all Russian flights to Egypt on Friday after a recommendation by his chief of intelligence for a halt until the cause of last week’s crash of a passenger jet in the Sinai Peninsula is determined, as an official said pieces of wreckage from the plane had been brought to Moscow to test for possible traces of explosives.
The suspension came after several days of statements by British and American officials that it was possible a bomb on board had brought down the Russia carrier Metrojet’s Airbus A321-200, which crashed 23 minutes after takeoff from the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board. Russian and Egyptian officials had bristled at the statements, saying it was too soon to tell the cause.
The suspension, covering all of Egypt, is even more sweeping than that imposed by Britain, which had halted flights to Sharm el-Sheikh only.
“I think it will be reasonable to suspend all Russian flights to Egypt until we determine the real reasons of what happened,” intelligence chief Alexander Bortnikov Bortnikov said in televised comments. “It concerns tourist flights most of all.”
That will put a big dent in Egypt’s plans to localize the impact of this crisis. A definitive conclusion has yet to be reached by investigators, which includes personnel from Egypt, but the data so far appears to point in the direction of a midair disintegration of the plane. That, along with the heat flash picked up by Western intel satellites, forces other nations to at least act on the suspicion that terrorists have infiltrated the airport security systems and have made the Sinai resort, and perhaps Egypt in general, too unsafe for its citizens to visit.
That is one reason why UK PM David Cameron spoke out — and acted. Sharm el-Sheikh is a destination for British tourists, and in fact some have been stranded for days because of the crash. Cameron had already begun evacuating British tourists from Sharm el-Sheikh, and they were very grateful for the rescue. One woman told AFP that security at the local airport had been “atrocious”:
Putin’s decision to suspend air service to all of Egypt puts more pressure on his government to act, too. Moscow had dismissed the Obama and Cameron statements as premature, and some suspected that it might be a way for the US and UK to push Putin into attacking ISIS rather than the other groups challenging Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This could mean that the Russians are beginning to conclude that ISIS did target them — and given their problems with unrest in Chechnya and other Caucasus enclaves, it’s hardly a provocation they can afford to ignore.
Update: Egypt’s now saying that a bomb is the most likely explanation:
Egyptian authorities say a bomb is the most plausible reason for last weekend’s deadly Russian jet crash after takeoff from Egypt’s Sharm el Sheikh Airport, as Russia decides to halt all flights to Egypt.
A government official in Sharm el Sheikh told ABC News Egyptian authorities can no longer dismiss the possibility that a bomb was placed on the plane and, in their mind, it is the most plausible scenario, adding that a technical problem is now at the bottom of their list of possible scenarios.
ABC calls that a “game changer,” and that Russia will have to escalate its efforts against ISIS:
It’s probably a good idea for tourists to avoid Egypt for a while.