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Press review: What caused the A321 bird strike and Zelensky turns to Trump for help

Top stories in the Russian press on Friday, August 16
A-321 passenger plane at the site of its emergency landing in a field outside Zhukovsky airport Galina Yeliseyeva/TASS
A-321 passenger plane at the site of its emergency landing in a field outside Zhukovsky airport
© Galina Yeliseyeva/TASS


Media: Questions hover over what caused the A321 bird strike

An Airbus A321, bound for Crimea’s Simferopol from the Russian capital, performed a safe emergency landing in a cornfield in the Moscow suburbs earlier on Thursday after the plane hit a flock of seagulls during takeoff. According to the Russian media, the incident, which avoided a fatal disaster, revealed serious gaps in ensuring flight safety.

According to the Federal Air Transport Agency, the black boxes of the Airbus A321 were not affected. The primary culprit at the moment are birds who got sucked into the plane’s engines. August is the time when young gulls spread their wings and fly with their parents in search of food, ornithologist and researcher at the Faculty of Biology of Moscow State University Pavel Kvartalnov told Izvestia.

Press secretary for the Zhukovsky Airport administration Yulia Soshkina and City Council Member Svetlana Bezlepkina assured Izvestia that there aren’t any unauthorized landfills near the airport that could attract birds. However, the media and local residents refute this information. At the same time, according to Izvestia, the ornithology group responsible for clear skies in the area of all airfields, was shut down six years ago.

Meanwhile, according to Vedomosti, this was the most serious bird strike in the last 12 years. "Collisions with birds in Russia, or bird strikes, occur at least 10 times more often than in Europe, although there the environment is better and there are more birds based on the statistics from Russian airlines," Utair CEO Andrey Martirosov told Vedomosti. An employee of another major airline agrees with him. A staff member of one of the largest air carriers in Russia told the newspaper that their airliners collide with birds almost every day.

Low-cost airline Pobeda back in July 2018 drew the attention of the nation’s top prosecutor to this problem, Vedomosti wrote. "Ornithological support at Russian airports is extremely ineffective, which poses a serious threat to flight safety," the letter said. According to the newspaper, the situation did not change after that. Vedomosti also wrote that landfills could be an important risk factor, which airports themselves cannot change.

Experts told Kommersant, that the ornithological situation at Zhukovsky Airport is "quite difficult". The proximity of water is a factor. The airfield is located at the bend of the Moscow River and the landfill adjacent to the airfield for many years contributed to the resettlement of a large colony of gulls there, the newspaper wrote.

According to Kommersant, on August 15, after a visit of numerous officials to Zhukovsky, it was announced that the authorities would take measures to get rid of the landfills near the airport, and its ornithological safety would be beefed up. The emergency measures will be taken given that preparation for the international aerospace show MAKS-2019 is coming.


Izvestia: Ukrainian leader seeks Trump’s help in anticipated Normandy talks

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky intends to meet with his US counterpart Donald Trump before a possible summit of the Normandy Quartet, sources in political circles in Kiev told Izvestia. According to them, Zelensky intends to turn to the White House with a request to be more publicly active on the issue. This would give Zelensky an additional trump card in the quartet’s negotiations, the newspaper wrote. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry announced that Zelensky’s visit to Washington was in the process of getting a greenlight.

Izvestia reported that right now Kiev is not passing up any opportunity to remind everyone that the Normandy format talks have not been held for a long time, and given the change of power in Ukraine, this sort of summit would be very welcome. Meanwhile, Moscow stated that before gathering, specific topics should be put on the agenda for discussion. And since the Minsk accords are still far from being implemented, there are no reasons to rush into the meeting.

According to the newspaper’s sources in political circles in Kiev, before the negotiations, Zelensky wants to "strengthen Ukraine’s position ", with public support from Trump. "France and Germany, despite their unconditional support, are very cautious in their statements. Before meeting with Putin in the Normandy format, Zelensky needs to maximize his negotiating position," another source told the newspaper.

Ukrainian politician Evgeny Balitsky told Izvestia that Zelensky’s intentions to meet with Trump are obvious, since the Ukrainian head of state now urgently needs the assistance of influential world leaders. "Ukraine is in a very difficult economic and political situation. Zelensky is now looking for any communication that could help him garner support. He needs such a meeting in order to ‘win big’ before the anticipated Normandy talks, since big players listen to big players. So in order to put on political weight, he is taking, in my opinion, this sort of logical step," he explained.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Bolton accuses Moscow of stealing military technology

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said Russia was upgrading its nuclear missile capabilities - missiles with hypersonic glide warhead and hypersonic cruise missiles, by using technologies, mainly stolen from the United States. He put forward this claim when commenting on the incident at a naval training ground near Severodvinsk, where an explosion occurred during missile tests. Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that Washington was confident that it has more advanced technologies in the nuclear missile sphere, yet Russia said that its developments in this area are far ahead of the levels of others and are quite unique. The statements of the two countries clearly have an element of information confrontation, the newspaper wrote.

According to military expert retired Major General Vladimir Dvorkin noted that Russia could not steal hypersonic weapon technologies from the United States, since it developed them long before the Americans. "The hypersonic glide vehicle was developed in the Soviet Union when the US was not even doing anything similar," he told the newspaper.

"In addition to creating new types of hypersonic weapons, Russia’s defense industry is also working on developments related to defense systems against it," military expert Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Ovchinnikov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "The United States, of course, is afraid of new Russian weapons developments, so they pay a great deal of attention to their tests, especially to unsuccessful tests, which is expressed in official comments, various assumptions, estimates and forecasts on this topic by the US president and his subordinates," Ovchinnikov said.


Kommersant: VTB invests in Qatari bank

VTB became a co-owner of the new Qatari financial institution CQUR Bank, which can be potentially used to implement joint Russian-Qatari projects. However, experts interviewed by Kommersant do not rule out that CQUR was created as a return investment for VTB in the economy of the Persian Gulf state amid the falling securities of VTB, more than 2% of which are owned by Qatar’s sovereign fund.

VTB said in a second quarter report that it owns 19% in Qatar's CQUR Bank. This bank, according to the financial regulator of Qatar, received a license only on July 16, 2019, and has the right to attract deposits, provide loans, participate in investments in general, but does not have the right to work with individuals.

The Russian banking giant did not comment on the information disclosed in the quarterly report. However, according to a Kommersant source close to the VTB Group, the deal’s genuineness raises questions. "The Qatar Investment Authority sovereign fund owns around 2.35% of VTB’s shares, and they have not recently shown their best dynamics," the source told Kommersant. "The support of Qatar is important for a Russian bank, and this investment is more likely a retaliatory gesture, while it is possible that VTB’s investments in the Qatari bank will increase over time," the source added.


Izvestia: Russia may begin selling satellite data

For the first time in Russia, geodata from satellites could be up for sale. Russian Space Systems plans to present a new service that will offer access to the data to private companies and citizens in the near future, Izvestia wrote. Customers will be able to receive pictures and analytical reports on construction of residential facilities and roads, along with information on illegal landfills, and so on. Space imagery can also serve as useful evidence in court in land disputes and property issues, the newspaper wrote. Until now, only government agencies could use the service after an official request to Roscosmos.

"Having developed the domestic orbital and terrestrial space infrastructure at the expense of state financing, we must use it commercially, providing services in various fields of geoinformatics," Russian Space Systems Deputy Director General for Strategic Development and Innovation Evgeny Nesterov told Izvestia. "We are ready to provide access to the information set in commercial cloud format to all interested partners, development companies, and provide them with our data analysis tools. For all of us, satellite images, for example, can be useful as evidence in court," he added.

Russian Space Systems told Izvestia that a raw satellite image is of little interest to the end user - it is not informative. The image should be tied to the real area of the map, and additional geo-information obtained in different spectral ranges should be superimposed on it to be of interest to regular customers.

Russian Space Systems explained that the cost of the service would be determined individually, depending on the amount of information requested.

The service interface will be demonstrated as part of the MAKS-2019 aerospace show in Zhukovsky.


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