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Anger in Russia over Skyguide killing verdict

Relatives of the Skyguide crash victims demonstrated outside the Swiss embassy in Moscow at the start of the trial Keystone

The Russian press has reacted with dismay to a Swiss court's sentencing of the Russian killer of an air traffic controller, a media expert in Moscow tells swissinfo.

On Wednesday, Vitaly Kaloyev was found guilty of intentional killing and sentenced to eight years in jail.

Yassen Zassoursky, the dean of the faculty of journalism at Moscow State University, said newspapers agreed that the court in Zurich should have shown a greater degree of leniency towards Kaloyev, who lost his wife and two children in a plane crash over Swiss air space in 2002.

Zassoursky also said there was a feeling that the Swiss air traffic control authority, Skyguide, had not taken enough responsibility for the crash. The result was that Switzerland’s image had been badly damaged, he said.

swissinfo: How has the verdict been covered in Russia?

Yassen Zassoursky: The case is widely covered in Russian newspapers. They concentrate on two points: first the decision of the court, which some papers see as something that does not take into account the amount of personal loss of Mr Kaloyev and other parents of children killed in the crash.

Second, they admit that he’s guilty but they think that because of his suffering he’s due some kind of mercy. So that the verdict is seen as too harsh by most papers.

The story didn’t make the front pages, but it was on all the news pages and also widely covered by television and radio.

swissinfo: It has been mentioned here that Russians possibly expected Swiss air traffic control to show more sympathy for the victims of the crash.

Y.Z.: They didn’t show enough sympathy and they were not too quick to investigate. This is certainly one of the major problems discussed in the Russian newspapers.

They see the catastrophe as the result of mismanagement on the part of this organisation [Skyguide]. Kaloyev has got his verdict, but from the point of view of the Russian newspapers, Skyguide hasn’t been punished enough for its negligence and lack of professionalism.

swissinfo: Is there a sense that cultural misunderstandings between Switzerland and Russia could have contributed to Kaloyev’s actions?

Y.Z.: Certainly the North Ossetians [who comprise most of the families affected by the disaster] looked for expressions of concern and sympathy for the victims as well as an admission of guilt. There is a lot of surprise that Switzerland, which is known for its high concern for human rights was so heartless in this case.

Some newspapers say Kaloyev’s actions were an emotional reaction to the deaths of his children, and certainly he should not have done this. But it was a result of the lack of any kind of real investigation into the cause of the crash and the punishment of the guilty.

swissinfo: Has Switzerland’s image been harmed by this case?

Y.Z.: Swiss justice is now seen in a very bad light in Russia. We also had the case of Yevgeny Adamov [the former nuclear energy minister being held in a Swiss jail pending extradition to the United States]. And here the Swiss authorities were very quick to act.

But in the case of the Russian children killed in this crash, the Swiss authorities were very slow to act and were not interested. This leads to bad feelings.

It has damaged the image of Switzerland very seriously.

swissinfo-interview: Morven McLean

July 1, 2002: a Bashkirian Airlines passenger jet collides with a DHL cargo plane in Swiss air space, killing 71 people, 45 of them children.
February 24, 2004: The Skyguide air traffic controller who was on duty at the time of the accident is stabbed to death.
February 25, 2004: Russian architect Vitaly Kaloyev, whose wife and two children died in the crash, is arrested in connection with the killing.
October 26, 2005: A Zurich court finds Kaloyev guilty of intentional killing and sentences him to eight years in prison.

In an interview with the Russian Izvestia newspaper published on Friday, Vitaly Kaloyev accused the Swiss legal system of failing to understand justice.

He was quoted as saying that he thought that Swiss justice had not considered the 71 victims of the crash and that he thought Skyguide had got off too lightly.

Kaloyev also told the newspaper that the Swiss, with some exceptions, did not understand mercy and that nobody had apologised for what had happened.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR