The recent news of the Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 going down in Indonesia and killing 45 has made it big around the globe. Experts and news agencies sighted bad visibility, unknown terrain, and questionable permissions from the flight tower as the reasons for the tragedy during the jet's inaugural international trade show. The St. Petersburg Times reports that "Russian intelligence agencies are investigating the possibility that the U.S. military may have brought down the Sukhoi Superjet." The guesses are plenty--some laughable, some believable--however, the true reason is one: system failure. And I'm not talking about the aircraft's on-board systems or even the processes at the Sukhoi design and construction facilities (which are plenty and where a brand-new engineer is offered a whooping salary of $500 a month). I'm talking about the Russian government's reliance on the so-called "vertical of power" and sheer luck instead of an organized legal system and business process. The plane's crash may be a foreshadowing of events that are about to follow, pending increase in the volatility of oil prices and Greece's financial collapse, as Russia's "system" simply does not work.
What would an American (or a British or a French) pilot do during the demonstration of a new plane to potential buyers or journalists? Would he allow other people into his cabin? Would he deviate from all protocols to take a closer look at the picturesque 7,200-feet-tall mountains by lowering his aircraft to 6,000 feet in rain and fog? Most likely, no. That is common sense, that is following protocol. And this is not just in aviation. If one tries to act by the book of law in Russia, he would wonder why most of the members of parliament officially live below the poverty line, yet drive Porches and Bentleys. Why it is that knowing someone's uncle in a city's fire department might prove useful in running a street-side café. Or why planes that are solidly built fly straight into the mountains at full speed.
I would argue that the common denominator of anything that is effective in Russia is called "the vertical of power." This implies that anything which comes from the "top" gets executed properly and on time. And this is why Putin has had to personally supervise the construction of burnt villages in 2010 on his office monitors, so that construction materials weren't stolen and budget money wasn't pocketed. This is why the Olympic Games site in Sochi is swarmed with senior government officials, including one of Putin's seven deputies. Anything that Putin and Medvedev do not personally oversee goes wrong. Because when they are asleep, so is the system they created.
Early Putin's cabinet relied on innovative strategies that improved Russia's financial system, dramatically simplified the tax code, and created the country's first-ever land ownership that resulted in the birth of the credit system. The processes were assisted by unprecedented rise in oil prices and nation's spiritual awakening after seventy years of communism and a decade of impoverished Yeltsinism. Economic wealth and growth of the middle class followed. However, most of Russia's wealth escaped the country through foreign and off-shore accounts, corruption stabilized at high levels, and the middle class settled with the status quo of rising salaries and lowering political stimulation. Putin has gotten older and lazier, Russian Orthodox church became involved in political and tax-evasion scandals, and now the luck of stable Europe and rising oil prices is slowly running out.
It was not the equipment, but current absence of open social discourse, ethical business practice, and just legal systems that brought down that Russian plane in Jakarta.
We extend our condolences to the affected families.