After engaging in what was probably too much research about last Friday’s weird aviation incident, I’ve come to the conclusion that just about everybody involved has either lied or been sorely mistaken about key facts, including Yours Truly.
Therefore, once and for all, I want to paint a true record of what actually happened.
The Undisputed Facts
On Friday, July 28, 2017, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin had announced his intention to travel to Chisinau, Moldova, in order to attend events in Transnistria/PMR the following day that celebrated 25 years of the international peacekeeping mission there (PMR). He had to fly to Chisinau because PMR doesn’t have a single functioning airport.
Despite protests by some politicians and regular people in Moldova, Rogozin was cleared to land in Chisinau. He boarded an S7/Globus commercial airliner from Moscow non-stop to Chisinau that overflew three EU countries (Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary) before being radioed and told that it could not cross Romanian airspace.
After 20-30 minutes of negotiations, the plane headed to Minsk, Belarus. Rogozin deplaned and took an Aeroflot flight to Moscow. The S7/Globus flight refueled and the other passengers arrived without incident in Chisinau a few hours later.
First, let’s see how the AP got the story wrong twice. From here:
Russia’s deputy prime minister “deliberately” tried to enter Romanian airspace despite knowing he is on a list of officials banned from the European Union, Romania’s foreign minister said Monday.
“In my opinion, it was a deliberate act to create problems between Romania and Russia,” the minister, Teodor Melescanu, told the news channel Antena 3.
In a tweet, Rogozin said that Romanian authorities “put lives of the passengers, women and children at risk” by forcing the plane to divert. He warned the Romanian government: “You wait for an answer, bastards!”
Melescanu denied that Romanian authorities had endangered lives. He said he believed Rogozin wanted to show that the EU sanctions barring Russians from transiting or visiting EU countries don’t work.
This is mostly true, but with a few key details missing and/or wrong.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin had to scrap a trip to Moldova on Friday after his plane was barred from entering Romanian and Hungarian airspace.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday presented Romania’s envoy to Russia with a note of protest, urging an investigation into the incident and arguing that it put the lives of those on board at risk.
“Moscow is treating the incident as a deliberate provocation, which seriously damages the bilateral relations,” the ministry said.
Clearly, the plane entered Hungarian airspace. In fact, it spent at least 20-30 minutes in Hungarian airspace, so that’s 100% wrong. Hell, I watched it happen live, so this is pretty damn poor journalism.
Second, notice how Romania’s FM used the words “deliberately cause problems”? It’s nearly an exact copy of what Russia’s FM told Romania a day earlier. Nice, eh?
And, for the record, Nataliya Vasilyeva clearly has a Ukrainian name, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Here’s even more weirdness, written by Anca Gurzu and David M. Herszenhorn:
“Romanian authorities endangered the lives of the passengers on board the S7 airline flight — women and children,” Rogozin tweeted Friday. “Look forward to a reply, you snakes.”
He used the Russian word “Gady,” which has no direct translation but can be variously interpreted as reptile, snake, vermin or skunk.
Anca Gurzu sounds like a pretty typical Romanian name, and David Herszenhorn is an American who worked in Moscow from 2011-2015. Despite this, neither one clearly speaks Russian.
Plug in the Russian word “гады” that Rogozin used in his Tweet, and Google Translate will tell you it means reptiles. Yes, that is the literal translation, the same way “you bastard” literally means “your parents were not married at the time of your birth.”
But “гады” sure as hell doesn’t mean “snakes.” I don’t even speak Russian that well, and yet even I know that. As I’ve written before, Russians and Americans are very similar in a lot of ways, and one of those ways is that practically every Russian guy has a nickname, including a guy I know around here whose nickname is “zmei”, the real Russian word that means “snake”.
In contrast, I’ve only met one Romanian in 15 years who had a nickname.
Therefore, no, sorry, Anca and David, Rogozin didn’t call the Romanian authorities snakes or reptiles but used the term that means “bastards” that even the friggin’ AP got right this time.
Now over to Agerpres, the official state news agency in Romania that can’t write English for shit:
“From my point of view, all this matter, Romania’s overflight, was clearly pre-planned to create a political rift between Romania and Russia, and I say this because a few days before leaving for Transnistria, Rogozin had tweeted the information that it [sic] would fly over the Romanian soil and posted a map for us to see where he flies in, where he flies out and so forth.
From my point of view, that was a deliberate matter by Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin to create difficulties in the relations between Romania and Russia,” Melescanu told Antena 3 private broadcaster.
“Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin tweeted to the whole world that he will fly over Romania and also posted a map with the itinerary of the respective plane.”
No. Melescanu is either drunk or lying.
First, practically nobody in Romania uses Twitter. I’m not sure why, but it just never caught on. Melescanu doesn’t even have a Twitter account and his ministry’s account is anemic and rarely updated. The only social media that Romanians ever pay attention to is Facebook.
But Twitter is extremely popular in Russia, and I know because I use Twitter every day to monitor hundreds of accounts, including that of Dmitry Rogozin (who has two – one in English and one in Russian). Guess what? He never, ever posted a map of his itinerary OR said which airline he would be flying on.
Unfortunately, Twitter lets you delete your Tweets rather easily, and Rogozin has done this a lot, so there’s no way for me to prove a negative (that he didn’t post his map/itinerary), but neither I nor the few people who WERE watching attentively ever saw it, that’s for sure.
UPDATE: Rogozin just blasted Melescanu for this mistake (link in Russian), so clearly I was right about the Twitter stuff.
Now, What Really Happened
Rogozin wanted to get to Chisinau, but he had a serious problem. Since 2015, Ukraine has banned all Russian airlines from landing in or overflying its territory. This is a serious problem when you’re trying to get to Chisinau from Moldova as the shortest route (by far!) goes right over central Ukraine.
Rogozin therefore had to choose:
- Fly a Russian commercial airliner over Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, and Romania to get to Moldova; OR
- Fly a Moldovan commercial airliner over Ukrainian airspace.
If he flew over Ukraine, and the Ukrainian authorities found out he was on board, there could’ve been a really tense situation.
On the other hand, if he flew the long way around to Chisinau, there was a chance he would run into problems with the Romanian authorities.
I have no idea how much Rogozin knew in advance, but he’s the kind of guy who loves to say and do provocative things, so I’m guessing he DID know what would happen.
Why is that? Because in May 2014, Rogozin flew to Chisinau aboard a Russian military plane. He landed in Chisinau just fine, but when he tried to take off again, his plane was intercepted by Ukrainian jets and sent back to Chisinau.
His pilot then wanted to cross over Romania on the way home, but the Romanian authorities intervened and forbade him to fly over their airspace. He then Tweeted, “Next time I come to Romania, I’ll be flying in a TU-160” or long-range bomber (a military aircraft).
Ultimately, he took an Aeroflot commercial flight across Ukraine to get home.
When the Romanian authorities intervened in 2014, they issued what is called a NOTAM, an acronym that means “Notice to All Airmen.” Effectively, when you’re a pilot, you get information from NOTAMs about both your route and destination, usually things like weather alerts or a broken light on the runway.
However, Romania’s civil air authority issued NOTAM A0990/14 which stated:
IT IS NOT PERMITTED TO OVERFLY ROMANIAN AIRSPACE WITH AIRCRAFT CARRYING ON BOARD PERSONS LISTED TO THE EUROPEAN UNION COUNCIL DECISION NO. 2014/145/CFSP OF 17 MARCH 2014, EUROPEAN UNION COUNCIL DECISION NO. 2014/151/CFSP OF 21 MARCH 2014, COUNCIL REGULATION (EU) NO. 269/2014 OF 17 MARCH 2014 AND COUNCIL REGULATION (EU) NO. 284/2014 OF 21 MARCH 2014. 09 MAY 17:48 2014 UNTIL PERM.
CREATED: 09 MAY 17:50 2014
In regular English, this means that Rogozin (named in the 2014/151/CFSP document) is forbidden to enter Romanian airspace.
Although it was issued on May 9, 2014, it is considered to still be in effect. Now, whether the S7/Globus pilot knew about this is unknown. Airlines use special software to filter out the thousands of NOTAMs in order to give them the relevant ones, but there’s no way of knowing if the pilot saw NOTAM A0990/14 and then realized that one of those EU Council Decisions included Rogozin’s name.
Furthermore, when a commercial airliner begins its flight, it transmits the names of all the passengers to the destination airport, but not to all the countries that it overflies en route.
Use your favorite flight tracking software, and you’ll see that there are hundreds of flights over Romanian airspace at any given moment, most of which are not going to land in Romania, so Romania has no idea who is on those planes.
Therefore, only Moldova was officially informed that Rogozin was on that S7/Globus flight. How Romania found out is a mystery, but considering that he’s widely despised by many Romanian-speaking Moldovan politicians, it’s likely one of them picked up the phone and called someone in Bucharest.
What proves Romania’s incompetence is that it took them at least three hours from the time the flight manifest was filed with the Chisinau authorities to contact the pilot and inform/remind them of the ban.
After Rogozin got back to Moscow, he told TASS (a Russian news agency) that the plane had originally intended to land in Budapest after being blocked from entering Romania, but the Hungarian officials forbade this. Therefore, the plane headed to Minsk and landed there.
Now, Here’s What Didn’t Happen
- Rogozin didn’t post a map or his itinerary on Twitter.
- Rogozin wasn’t blocked from entering Romanian airspace due to EU sanctions or a travel ban.
- Rogozin never called anyone in Romania a “snake” or a “reptile.”
- The plane was never blocked from entering Hungarian airspace.
- Romanian FM Melescanu told the truth without any made-up Twitter fantasies.
The EU Travel Ban
In my original piece, I mistakenly said that there was no travel ban against some people on the EU sanctions list, including Dmitry Rogozin. He is most definitely on that list and is officially banned from entering the EU.
But after carefully reading the text, it is highly unclear what “travel ban” actually means. For instance, there is a provision that allows “banned” people to travel in humanitarian cases as well as to attend United Nations meetings or other intergovernmental meetings.
But there’s absolutely nothing about flying over an EU country’s airspace. As far as I can tell, Rogozin “legally” flew over Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary precisely because he’s not banned from flying over the EU, only arriving on the ground in the EU.
The reason Romania can ban Rogozin from entering its airspace is not because of the EU sanctions but because of the Chicago Convention which gives Romania 100% autonomy in deciding who can and cannot overfly its territory.
Therefore, the legal justification for banning Rogozin from overflying Romanian territory is the Chicago Convention as expressed by NOTAM A0990/14.
As far as I can tell, the first people on the internet to figure out what was going on is a group called Runway 08 named after the main runway at the Chisinau Airport. Their website is infrequently updated, but that’s because they do everything on Facebook.
I’d never heard of them before last month, but they are a group of Moldovan aviation enthusiasts. They show a strong anti-Russian bias and always communicate in Romanian, but they’re clearly insiders and know a lot about what’s going on. In fact, it was Runway 08 that first posted the Air Moldova employees letter.
On the day of the Rogozin incident at around 10:00 am, approximately three hours before Rogozin’s flight took off, it was only Runway 08 that was debating whether he would risk flying over Ukraine on a Moldovan airline or take the long way around and go over Romania and thus risk bumping up against NOTAM A0990/14.
Runway 08 was also amongst the first people (on the internet, anyway) to figure out where Rogozin was, mostly because the plane deviated from its normal flight path (when it had to circle around in Hungary) and thus triggered automatic alerts.
Therefore, it’s pretty obvious that a handful of Moldovan avitation enthusiasts were better informed and had a better grasp of the strategic situation than the entire Romanian government.
Incompetence on Every Level
What makes this whole incident so weird is that that clearly, Romania only found out at the last minute about Rogozin being aboard that S7/Globus flight. That’s why the Foreign Ministry said it banned the flight but couldn’t say why or provide any details in the first 24 hours after it happened.
But as I said at the top, everyone knew Rogozin was coming to Moldova and on what day. Even Alison Mutler could figure out that Rogozin either had to cross Ukrainian or Romanian airspace to get to Moldova because Moldova is a landlocked country that is completely surrounded by Ukraine and Romania!
So why wasn’t Romania prepared ahead of time for Rogozin to attempt to cross Romanian airspace? They had an entire week to get ready, and yet obviously they didn’t. They could’ve warned their colleagues in Ukraine as well as sending a diplomatic note to Russia to remind them that Rogozin has been banned from Romanian airspace since 2014.
But that failure to prepare and come up with a plan ended up endangering the passengers on the flight, causing problems with Moldova, provoking problems between Russia and Romania, and making the Romanian government look stupid as hell.
Rogozin has to be laughing into his sleeve this week at how he easily he bamboozled the morons in Bucharest with this little stunt.
What can I say? Romania has apparently learned nothing since the Frozen Tears incident in 2014. And that is pretty fucking pitiful.