Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the new film titled “Putin” by Andrei Kondrashov’s, has spoken of how in 2014, during the Sochi Olympics, he was informed of the high-jacking of a passenger aircraft. So how did he respond?
In trying to understand the inner-workings of a man who is one of the leaders of the free world, we sometimes stumble upon these candid moments in casual interviews and even the occasional hot mic. In the new Kondrashov film ”Putin”, Putin called this point in time “a very sensitive page in the history of the Olympics.”
What happened? Well, on February 7th, he says he was traveling with the leaders of the International Olympic Committee by bus to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Putin received a phone call from the FSB who told him of an emergency situation – the high-jacking of a Turkish aircraft by terrorists.
“One of the heads of the operational headquarters for ensuring the safety of the Olympic Games called in. And he reported: the plane was travelling from Ukraine to Istanbul. The aircraft has been taken hostage – they demand the plane head in the direction of Sochi” Putin was told. Meanwhile, there are thousands of people at the stadium in Sochi, and 110 aboard the aircraft.
This was a tense situation, but one of only hundreds similar – or worse – that the Russian leader has had to deal with before.
The director of the FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, said that the pilots reported a bomb, being held by one of the passengers.
Relaying this riveting story, Putin said: “I asked – what are you proposing? And the answer was as expected. I said ok, follow the plan that is in place for such situations. I told them to act in accordance with the plan. Meanwhile, those on the bus with me asked if everything is alright. I said: yes, everything is fine. Unfortunately I couldn’t tell them anything, until details were clarified. ”
Then a second phone call came. The head of state was informed that the incident was due to a drunken passenger aboard the aircraft who played a trick on the crew. The plane continued its flight to Turkey.
Putin was asked what he was feeling between these calls – he said, “it’s better not to talk about it.”
So what was the plan? Reportedly, the options were this: ignore the terrorists, and let them possibly blow the plane up right over an area hosting a game killing scores more, or even letting it fly right into a stadium potentially killing thousands – or – to shoot down the plane, hence minimizing the loss of life to only those on the plane. Yes, better not to talk about it.
This true anecdote though serves a broader purpose. The leaders of the free world like Putin, Maduro, and Rouhani to name a few, are often faced with these very difficult decisions where even the optimal choice is only ‘less bad’ by a few hairs. These decisions are pinned on these leaders as somehow reflective of their ‘motives’ and ‘personalities’, in the negative sense, all the while ignoring what the real-world alternatives were.