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Wildfires Highlight Dysfunctional Russia
Financial Times ^ | August 6 2010 | Neil Buckley and Isabel Gorst

Posted on 08/07/2010 7:13:20 PM PDT by nickcarraway

As forest wildfires blaze across western Russia, levelling homes and villages and leaving Moscow, the capital, swathed in acrid smog, an anonymous blogger has captured the mood of many.

“Under the communists ... we had three fire ponds, there was a bell people rang if a fire started and ... a fire engine – one between three villages, it’s true, but there was one,” railed the blogger, from the rural Tver region north-west of Moscow. Today, he said, the ponds and fire engine were gone and the bell had been replaced by a telephone that had never been connected. The comments illustrate the mounting public anger at the authorities’ struggle to slow the spread of wildfires that have killed at least 52 people, destroyed more than 1,200 homes and scorched thousands of hectares of forest.

Russia’s August curse has struck again. This same month witnessed the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine in 2000, terrorist bombs on aircraft in 2004, another submarine incident in 2005, the 2008 Georgian conflict and an explosion at a hydroelectric plant last year.

But apart from the date, another common thread links many of these events: Russia’s repeated inability to protect its citizens from disasters both natural and man-made.

With a certain irony, the fires have peaked just before next Thursday’s 10th anniversary of the Kursk disaster – the formative event of Vladimir Putin’s first year as Russian president.

Then, an explosion aboard the pride of Russia’s Northern Fleet sent the Kursk submarine to the bottom of the Barents Sea and led to the death of the 118 seamen trapped on board. Mr Putin was shocked by what the tragedy revealed about the degradation of the once mighty military since the Soviet collapse.

He was bruised, too, by encounters with angry families of the dead submariners, widely covered by television channels that criticised the president’s fumbling response. In a TV interview days later, Mr Putin vowed that “together, we will restore both the army, and the navy, and the country”.

Ten years on, Russia is in many ways a different country. Soaring energy revenues have transformed it from a $160bn to a trillion dollar-plus economy. Average wages have jumped 10-fold.

Mr Putin, now prime minister, has also established control over TV channels and his own “good tsar” image. This week, he seemed everywhere at once, picking his way through smoking embers, upbraiding officials, promising to rebuild burnt-out homes before winter.

Yet, below the surface the fires show much has not changed. Russia still suffers from flawed governance, an often slapdash approach to safety and a dilapidated infrastructure.

“The fact the death toll is much higher than in other countries where such fires occur . . . shows the system of management is absolutely dysfunctional,” said Nikolay Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre think-tank.

Mr Putin attempted this week to counter the criticism. He personally responded to the Tver blogger’s post, forwarded to him by a Moscow radio station, arguing the drought was Russia’s worst for 140 years and that such conditions would have stretched European countries or the US.

“All necessary financial resources to overcome the consequences of this natural disaster have already been sent from the federal budget to the affected regions,” Mr Putin said.

Regional leaders, too, say they have done everything possible. “We are not talking about ordinary fires ... every day the situation gets worse with the heat,” said Valery Shantsev, governor of Nizhny Novgorod region 400km east of Moscow, surveying charred villages from a helicopter.

However, environmentalists say the fires were worse than they should have been because of Kremlin-sponsored reforms. A new Forest Code in 2006 dismantled a federal forest safety system and transferred responsibility to regional authorities and forest tenants such as logging companies, which have performed badly.

Mr Petrov said the “super-centralised” political and fiscal system put in place under Mr Putin meant resources to tackle the crisis had reached the regions too slowly, and that communication was far too slow.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Extended News; Foreign Affairs; Russia
KEYWORDS: fires; russia; wheat

1 posted on 08/07/2010 7:13:21 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: nickcarraway
the “super-centralised” political and fiscal system put in place under Mr Putin

They seem to have replaced Communism with ... Communism.

Still doesn't work.

2 posted on 08/07/2010 7:17:41 PM PDT by ClearCase_guy
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To: ClearCase_guy
They seem to have replaced Communism with ... Communism.

Right, and the Commies running California aren't doing much better with the fires.

3 posted on 08/07/2010 7:31:07 PM PDT by Mind-numbed Robot (Not all that needs to be done needs to be done by the government)
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To: nickcarraway

The Kursk FU was ten years ago? Time is going by WAY to fast.

4 posted on 08/07/2010 7:40:26 PM PDT by OCC
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Funny, I’m reading “A Time To Die” about that very subject right now. As for the death count, Australia suffered through fires last year which killed over 200 people.

5 posted on 08/07/2010 8:06:21 PM PDT by Amberdawn
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To: nickcarraway
have killed at least 52 people, destroyed more than 1,200 homes and scorched thousands of hectares of forest.

Gee, that's as bad as the Ukranian grain harvest in the CCCP back under Stalin.... well, maybe not.

Who writes these stories? Do they read history?

Sure, 52 people dead is bad. They don't get as much practice as California where the mudslides after the earthquakes put out the wildfires.

But they are Russians. What do they expect. They have it easy this time around.

Complain when the casualties get near Stalingrad numbers.


6 posted on 08/07/2010 8:07:51 PM PDT by JRandomFreeper (Gone Galt)
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To: nickcarraway
Even with the lack of the govt assistance (fire dept and telephone connection, etc) it's very sad that many Russian citizens can't figure out how to deal with some of their problems without the govt. My husband works with many well educated, well employed Russians and for whatever reason (years of Communist think), no one ever wants to take initiative and make a freakin' decision. It's always, "We have to check with someone else...blah blah blah."

Socialism really does cause brain damage.

With that said, I really feel sorry for the victims in this tragedy. It's just devastating the numbers that have died this summer.

7 posted on 08/07/2010 8:51:53 PM PDT by TNdandelion
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To: nickcarraway

Wildfires aren’t Russia’s main problem. Lack of children, high rates of abortion, and adults who drink themselves to death doesn’t bode well for the future of the country.

8 posted on 08/07/2010 9:03:44 PM PDT by Extremely Extreme Extremist (Mexico is the U.S. version of Hamas)
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To: Amberdawn

People seem to think the government is God and is supposed to protect them from all harm.

9 posted on 08/07/2010 10:29:01 PM PDT by tiki
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To: nickcarraway

The article is just a BS.

That wildfires means nothing but wildfires and they are handling that as good as other nations or better

10 posted on 08/08/2010 2:05:37 AM PDT by cunning_fish
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