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The black box of the Russian military plane which crashed in the Black Sea on Christmas Day has been recovered and brought to Moscow.

The Tupolev Tu-154 plane came down with the loss of all 92 passengers and crew. At least 12 bodies have been recovered from Black Sea so far.

The aircraft was carrying the Alexandrov military ensemble due to give a concert for Russian troops in Syria, and journalists and military personnel.

The cause of the disaster is still being investigated but there is no suggestion of a terror attack.

According to Russia’s defense ministry, numerous fragments of the plane have been found, including the plane’s chassis and one of its engines.

The plane crashed soon after take-off from an airport near Sochi, where it had landed for refueling.

Image source WIkimedia

The aircraft disappeared from radar two minutes after taking off from Adler airport at 05:25AM local time on Christmas Day, heading for Latakia in Syria.

It was carrying 64 members of the famed Alexandrov military ensemble, as well as one of Russia’s best-known humanitarian figures, Yelizaveta Glinka, known as Dr. Liza, executive director of the Fair Aid charity.

The black box was found by a Seaeye Falcon underwater remotely operated vehicle at a depth of 56ft, 5,000ft from the shore, the Russian defense ministry told Russia’s Ria-Novosti news agency.

A military spokesman said the recorder was in a “satisfactory condition”.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu described the crash as a “horrible tragedy” and said everything was being done to establish the cause.

It is believed that the location of a second black box has also been established and it could be recovered shortly.

Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov reiterated that investigators were looking into whether pilot error or a technical fault might have brought down the aircraft.

A source close to the investigation told Interfax the plane may have been overloaded.

“Witness accounts and other objective data obtained during the investigation suggest the plane was unable to gain height and for some reason – possibly overloading or a technical fault – crashed into the sea,” the unnamed source said.

According to an Aviation Safety Net report, the plane made a U-turn back towards the coastline shortly after take-off, before disappearing off the radar.

However, an audio recording played on Russian media and said to be of the final conversation between air traffic controllers and the plane reveals no sign of any difficulties.

Voices remain calm until the plane disappears and the controllers try in vain to re-establish contact.

The plane involved in the crash was an old model no longer flown by air lines in Russia but still used by the military. It was 33 years old.

A Russian Tu-154 plane with 93 people on board has crashed into the Black Sea, the defense ministry has said.

The military plane disappeared from radar two minutes after taking off from the resort of Sochi at 05:25AM local time. Debris and one body have been found, with no reports of any survivors.

The Russian defense ministry said the Tu-154 was carrying soldiers, 65 members of the famed Alexandrov military music ensemble, and nine reporters.

The plane was flying to Latakia in Syria.

The flight originated in Moscow and had landed at Adler airport in Sochi for refueling.

The Russian defense ministry said in a statement: “Fragments of the Tu-154 plane of the Russian defense ministry were found 1.5km [one mile] from the Black Sea coast of the city of Sochi at a depth of 50 to 70m [165-230ft.”

Image source WIkimedia

An audio recording played on Russian media and said to be of the final conversation between air traffic controllers and the plane reveals no sign of any difficulties being faced by the crew.

Voices remain calm until the plane disappears and the controllers try in vain to re-establish contact.

Reports from the area said flying conditions were favorable.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a state commission to look into the crash and sent his condolences to the families and friends of the victims.

The defense ministry has published a passenger list, showing that 65 of those on board were from the Alexandrov Ensemble, including its director, Valery Khalilov.

There were 9 journalists, 8 soldiers, two civil servants and eight crew members.

Also on board was Elizaveta Glinka, known as Dr. Liza, the executive director of the Fair Aid charity and the inaugural winner of Russia’s state prize for achievements in human rights.

The plane was carrying passengers to a New Year’s performance for Russian troops deployed in Syria.

The performance was scheduled to take place at Russia’s Hmeimim air base, near Latakia.

Russia has been carrying out air strikes in support of Syrian government forces who are battling rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.


According to the Pentagon, a Russian SU-27 fighter jet flew within about 10ft of one of its reconnaissance aircraft operating over the Black Sea.

The US described the intercept by the Russian plane on September 7 as “dangerous and unprofessional”.

According to Russian defense ministry, said the US Navy P-8A Poseidon had been approaching Russian territory and the SU-27 pilots had adhered to international rules.

Russia is currently carrying out military exercises in the Black Sea.

Image source YouTube

Image source YouTube

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the US Navy aircraft had been conducting routine operations in international airspace when the Russian fighter made the unsafe maneuver.

“These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions, and could result in a miscalculation or accident,” he said.

A US defense official quoted by AFP news agency said the Russian plane had flown within 30ft of the P-8A before closing to just 10ft.

The Russian defense ministry said fighters intercepted the P-8A because it was heading towards Russian territory with its transponder signal – which helps others identify it – switched off.

Its statement said: “After the Russian fighters got close to the spy planes for visual confirmation and to determine their wing numbers, the American aircraft changed course sharply and flew away.

“The Russia pilots acted in strict accordance with international rules for flights.”

Relations between Russia and the West have been strained since the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014.

In April 2016, the US complained that Russian jets had confronted one of its reconnaissance planes over the Baltic Sea in an “unsafe and unprofessional manner”.

In that incident, Russia also said that the US Navy plane had turned off its transponder signal.

President Vladimir Putin has ordered surprise military exercises in the Russian Black Sea region, to test the armed forces’ battle readiness.

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said the exercises would involve 36 ships and up to 7,000 troops.

Vladimir Putin has ordered surprise military exercises in the Russian Black Sea region, to test the armed forces' battle readiness

Vladimir Putin has ordered surprise military exercises in the Russian Black Sea region, to test the armed forces’ battle readiness

He added that Russia was not obliged to give warning of exercises involving fewer than 7,000 personnel.

Russia moved to reform its military after the 2008 war with Georgia showed up weaknesses.

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Georgia’s beautiful, subtropical Black Sea coast is once again drawing tourists from far and wide, and the government hopes focusing on gambling will help pull in visitors all year round.

When you are in Batumi, it is hard to believe that this was once a corrupt and crime-ridden city, cut off from the rest of the country, and run as a personal fiefdom by a power-hungry strongman.

Today the palm trees are illuminated in neon. Fountains are bathed in red and green spotlights, and hotels flash like Christmas tree lights.

Subtlety is not something you see much of in these parts. But then this once dark and impoverished corner of the former Soviet Union is now being touted as the Las Vegas of the Black Sea.

Just as Las Vegas likes to build larger-than-life imitations of Paris or Rome, in a confusingly circular way, Batumi is attempting its own rather bizarre copy of Las Vegas.

More aspirational members of the Georgian government would prefer to draw comparisons with Monte Carlo – but all the flashing lights and slot machines make me think more of 1980s Blackpool, near where I grew up in rainy north-west England. Minus, of course, the sticks of rock and the donkeys.

Turkish flags wave proudly outside the new casinos, whose owners say up to 70% of all the tourists in Batumi come to gamble – and that at the weekends, more than half of the guests at the roulette wheels or blackjack tables are Turkish.

Over the centuries this region was repeatedly invaded by Turks. Now Georgia is doing everything it can to lure them back. Passport controls crossing from Turkey into Georgia have been eased, meaning Turkish tourists can cross for an evening’s flutter showing just an ID card.

Last year almost 750,000 Turkish tourists visited Batumi – more than any other nationality – and even more are expected this year. So every season bigger hotels are built. Glitzier casinos opened. And yes, even more colorful lights switched on.

Local shopkeepers say they are thrilled that the regional economy appears to be booming.

But on the other side of the border, in Turkey, people are a bit more ambivalent. One Turkish laborer says he is now addicted, and that he comes every other day after work to gamble – otherwise he feels sick.

He has neighbors in the village who have lost their businesses because of gambling debts.

In local mosques in Turkey, religious leaders say gambling is turning into a plague, which is destroying families – something many wives would probably agree with.

According to the Turkish embassy in Georgia, Turkish women regularly phone up the consul in Batumi asking for help to find their husbands in the casinos.

But considering what the situation was like here just a decade ago, the boom in tourism is impressive.

This region was run by a corrupt clan, headed by Aslan Abashidze – seen by some as a strongman who saved the region from the chaos of 1990s Georgia, but by others as a mafia boss, who was involved in organized crime, backed up by his own personal army.

Getting into the territory then meant passing numerous checkpoints, passport controls and inevitably paying bribes.

Aslan Abashidze’s son was rumored to close off the promenade regularly – the only stretch of road without potholes – to race his Lamborghini up and down.

When President Mikheil Saakashvili swept to power in Georgia proper after the 2003 Rose Revolution, he vowed to win back this stray territory. There were fears of civil war – but that was averted when Aslan Abashidze fled to Moscow.

And although he still faces 15 years in prison for embezzlement if he ever comes back to Georgia, and has even been charged with murder, the region around Batumi has become a model for how once-breakaway territories can be reintegrated and made to prosper.

So President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government today likes to hold up Batumi as a lure for people in Georgia’s two remaining breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – which despite being backed by Russia, still show the scars of war, and have little of the glitz of Batumi.

It’s rather like how, before 1989, the US would show off the shining shop windows of capitalist West Berlin, to dark communist East Germany on the other side of the Wall.

So probably best if Georgia sticks to the Las Vegas or Monte Carlo analogies. I doubt talking about the joys of a Georgian Blackpool would quite do the same job.

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The cold snap that hit Europe in the last week has already claimed more than 260 lives across the continent.

Ukraine continues to be hardest hit, with another 9 deaths overnight. According to officials, 131 have died up to now, most of them homeless people, and 1,800 people have been taken to hospital.

Eight people died in Poland overnight, police say, bringing the toll to 53.

In Romania, another 6 people died overnight rising the death toll to 34, the Black Sea is still frozen on the coastline and dozens of roads are closed due the freezing rain that hit the country after the snowfalls.

The cold snap that hit Europe in the last week has already claimed more than 260 lives across the continent

The cold snap that hit Europe in the last week has already claimed more than 260 lives across the continent

Transport hubs have also been hit, with London’s Heathrow airport expecting to run only 50% of services on Sunday.

At least 4 people have died in France since the Arctic spell began and 43 departments in France have been put on alert for “exceptional” weather conditions.

The Italian capital Rome has seen its heaviest snowfall in more than 25 years, with runs on essential goods at supermarkets reported.

“The snow is beautiful, but let’s hope spring comes soon,” Pope Benedict XVI told the small number of pilgrims who braved the cold to go to St. Peter’s Square.

The Italian national rail operator is facing class action lawsuits after hundreds of people were trapped in trains due to the weather, AFP news agency reports.

Three helicopters were being used over eastern Bosnia on Sunday to deliver food and pick up people who needed evacuation.

A state of emergency is in force in the capital, Sarajevo, where snow has paralyzed the city.

In neighboring Serbia, 70,000 people remain cut off and 32 municipalities throughout the country have introduced emergency measures, according to senior emergency official Predrag Maric.

The Netherlands marked temperatures of -21.8C in the town of Lelystad on Saturday, the lowest recorded in the country for 27 years.

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