WASHINGTON – It is really odd that oil man Christophe de Margerie, Total’s CEO and Putin’s friend, was killed in an airplane accident caused by Russian negligence, as his private jet, a Dassault Falcon 50, was taking off from Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport in bad weather.
de Margerie was one of Putin’s strongest supporters in the West. He openly advocated closer energy ties with Russia. He wanted Total, one of the largest oil and gas conglomerates in the world, to continue joint energy projects with Moscow, despite the EU-imposed trade sanctions caused by Putin’s aggression in Eastern Ukraine.
The sad irony here is that de Margerie was killed, according to preliminary findings, by the ultra negligent behavior of his good and trusted friends. The crash was caused by a Russian Airport staff person who left his snowplow too close to the runway. Most unfortunately, as de Margerie’s private jet was taking off, it hit the plow and became uncontrollable. It fell from the sky, and the impact killed everybody on board.
So, de Margerie, on a good will trip aimed at keeping an open dialogue with his Russian friends, was killed by their lack of professionalism.
The first news coming out of Russia is that the snow plow operator responsible for the accident was drunk. More broadly, other news accounts indicate that there was chaos at the Vnukovo Airport, because many commercial flights had been diverted there on account of bad weather.
As a result of too many flights and bad weather, the airport ground operations were overwhelmed. Hence confusion, a large piece of equipment parked in the wrong place, and then an accident.
Of course, this is a tragic accident. And it is not unique. There have been other instances of crashes in other countries when airplanes try to land or take off in bad weather.
This is Russia
But in this particular case, this unfortunate accident is also a reminder of what Russia is. It is a mix of bluster and over confidence, thuggish behavior and colossal incompetence. In this case, a snowplow obstructing the runway of a major international Airport.
Sure, Russia also has a lot of oil and gas. And this is why it has “friends”, just like de Margerie. Too bad that the Russians accidentally killed him.
Count on Total’s friendship
But I suspect that his successor at Total may be counted on to continue on the same “realist” course aimed at salvaging the relationship with Russia because of its self-evident economic benefits.
Benefits that, according the France’s sophisticated and super savvy managers, should not be sacrificed on account of energy poor, destitute Ukraine.