Rules of Engagement

A new section has been introduced to the Russian anti-terrorism law. The long winded titled “The Use of Weapons and Military Technology by the Russian Armed Forces to Eliminate the Threat of Terrorist Acts in the Air or to Thwart Such an Attack” details how Russian security forces are to engage terrorists employing passenger airplanes as possible weapons. The revised section is part of the Russian “Combating Terrorism” law that the Duma adopted in March 2006. However what perks the ears of many is not the forgotten law as a whole but what the new sections say about hostages caught in the middle. According to Kommersant:

[T]he decree concerning the use of armed force “to eliminate threats of terrorist acts in the air” suggests that antiaircraft defense forces should attempt to influence an aircraft that is in violation of airspace rules using radio commands from the ground to before trying to knock the aircraft off course. If the radio commands don’t work, fighter jets will be deployed to intercept the plane. Before firing warning shots, they will first give the plane “visual signals” that it must land immediately. If the plane fails to respond to all of these signals, the military has the right to take measures to “intercept its flight by means of destruction.” Thus, passengers on a hijacked plane will have half an hour to two hours, depending on the efficiency of the military, to come to grips with their inevitable doom as a result of a successful counter-terrorism operation.

Those who are flying in a plane that is hijacked far from large cities and strategic objectives are the only ones who have additional chances at survival. The decree forbids the military from shooting down a plane “if there is no real threat to people’s lives and/or of an ecological catastrophe.” So a plane flying from, let’s say, Moscow to Thailand, over the vast unpopulated expanse of Siberia, should have nothing to worry about. But this ban is effectively annulled by a provision that “if there is credible information about the possibility of the airplane being used to commit a terrorist act,” the plane can be destroyed without warning. Considering that such credible information, according to the decree, “is defined by officials according to the procedure set down by the Ministry of Defense and the FSB,” it can be assumed that the plane will inevitably be shot down, even if its pilot swears that it has drifted off course due to instrument failure.

That is not all. In the resolution’s third provision which regulates “the use of weapons, military technology, and special devices by the Russian armed forces during counterterrorism operations,” speaks directly to anti-terrorist operations in places like Chechnya and Dagestan. Even though we are told that the situation in those regions are under control, nevertheless, Russian forces can use heavy military weapons

to defend civilians and free hostages, to repel an attack on a secured facility, to stop a vehicle or vessel “if its driver refuses to stop despite orders from military personnel,” to give “warning of the intent to use weapons, give a signal, or call for help,” and finally to detain persons who were involved in terrorist activities and are attempting to hide themselves. Special devices cannot be used “near visibly pregnant women, persons with obvious signs of disability, and children,” except in situations in which “such persons are putting up armed resistance or carrying out an attack that threatens the lives and wellbeing of others.”

Though Kommersant states that these provisions have produced an outcry among some, apparently these are already the rules of engagement for military. Their adoption by the Duma would only make military engagement consistent with Federal law.

Given Russian security forces “success” in rescuing hostages, I fail to see how these provisions will bring anyone any comfort.