The President announced a closure of its air space during the State of the Union address on Tuesday evening. That will have some modest effect on Russian airlines, making it less convenient to fly to the Caribbean and Mexico in addition to making it impossible to fly to the United States. But it doesn’t have nearly the same significance as the closure of European airspace, given the geography of Russia and the international route networks of its airlines.
There is something that private companies could do that would have a far greater effect:
There’s likely one final action that can level, instantly, Russian commercial aviation. That’s Sabre, the IT backbone on which Aeroflot runs. No Sabre, no reservations. No reservations, no airline.
— Jon Ostrower (@jonostrower) March 2, 2022
It’s not just reservations, and the ability to sell flights, but even to check people in for flights and dispatch aircraft. It’s the entire IT backbone of the airline.
Aeroflot uses Sabre. S7 Airlines and Rossiya use the European Amadeus. These two platforms could take down Russia’s air transportation network, even domestically, with the metaphorical flip of the switch.
But should they?
- Since they’re continuing to provide service, I presume that (at least) they believe they’re legally permitted to do so under current sanctions regimes.
- They may not want to stop service because it’s recurring business, and they’re betting that the current crisis may not last forever. If they cut off the airlines, would that be business they’d ever get back?
- On the other hand, they could also worry about Russian hacking in response to shutting down service. Take down computer reservation systems and you take down the U.S. and European airlines that operate on them as well – indeed, the world’s air transportation system.
- And while Aeroflot is a (57%) state-owned airline, S7 is privately owned, and it’s Russian people who are unable to travel – to visit family, travel to funerals, flee the country.
- Should all Russian people be considered ‘complicit’ and fair game for this sort of disruption, at least on the theory that it’s legitimate to squeeze them to pressure Putin? Do we believe that harming ethnic minorities and even opposition activists applies enough pressure on Putin to matter (versus more obvious sanctions on oligarchs)?
It’s tempting to ‘apply maximum pressure’ but it may not always make sense, and holding some pressure in reserve may as well. When Putin has ‘nothing left to lose’ that that increase the likelihood that he backs down, or doubles down? Surely there are still bad actions we wish to deter, no?
It’s still surprising that U.S. and European companies continue to do business with Russia in the current environment, that the pressure otherwise hasn’t become too great. Ukranian resistance has been far stronger than expected, perhaps some companies figured it would all be over quickly as Putin apparently assumed (this was a reasonable guess).
And perhaps they underestimated world opinion, which has rallied strongly to the Ukranian side. The messaging has been far stronger across the board, even aside from the substance of a democracy being invaded.
Message from the Ukrainian tax office: “Have you captured a Russian tank or armored personnel carrier and are worried about how to declare it? Keep calm and continue to defend the Motherland! There is no need to declare [them as income].” https://t.co/xduC7YlXa9
— Matt Bevan (@MatthewBevan) March 2, 2022
Bloody hell. Looking at a message from the Ukraine Library Association concerning the cancellation of their forthcoming conference. it basically says "We will reschedule just as soon as we have finished vanquishing our invaders". Ukrainian Librarians, I salute you
— Nicholas Poole (@NickPoole1) February 28, 2022
First Ukrainian anti-tank dancing video. Mixing old anti-tank weapons with the new. pic.twitter.com/m6kSe8Ioqb
— Woofers (@NotWoofers) March 1, 2022