Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Official Indifference to Disasters in Russia Means More are Ahead, Rosbalt Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 1 – Gas explosions, fires, air and highway accidents, and the release of poisonous or radioactive contamination, the disasters that profoundly affect the lives of ordinary Russians but rarely attract outside attention are only going to get worse, Dmitry Remizov says, because officials always minimize the problems and refuse to see that they have systemic roots.

            In a survey of these incidents in 2017, the Rosbalt commentator says that “the past year by the number of technogenic catastrophes was typical for Russia” with numerous “ordinary” accidents but also with some major disasters caused by terrorists, arsonists or those in charge of handling radioactive materials (rosbalt.ru/russia/2017/12/31/1672457.html).

            Tragically and indicative that things are likely to continue to deteriorate, Remizov says, is the fact that the two most serious developments in this are – suspicious fires in Rostov and the release of radioactivity in the Urals – have been downplayed by officials and consequently their “true causes likely will remain forever a secret.”

            For most of the last six years, Russia has led the world in terms of the number of aviation catastrophes, he continues. Those have attracted at least some attention, but far more serious in terms of loss of life have been accidents on the highways or involving railways: More than 17,000 Russians died from automobile accidents in the first 11 months of the past year. 

            Fatalities doubled from accidents involving cars and trains, with 30 deaths last year compared to only 15 in 2016.  There was also significant harm to life in three terrorist incidents – in the St. Petersburg metro in April when 15 died, another incident there in December and one in Surgut in August.

            More people were killed or wounded by natural gas explosions and fires, Remizov says.  The worst fire in Russia in 2017 was in Rostov where an entire district near the center of the city was burned. Many believe it was caused by arsonists who wanted to drive residents out of their deteriorating buildings in order to gain control of valuable land for development.

            As in most years recently, wild fires swept through the Siberian and Far Eastern federal districts. Officials counted 10,499 such conflagrations which spread over 4,628,355 hectares of land, forcing officials to declare an emergency situation affecting various regions more than 100 times.

             But probably the most serious accident of the year was at a site in the Urals where radioactive gas was released. That was initially reported only because it was monitored by officials outside of Russia in Western Europe.  Russian officials initially denied anything had happened and then came up with increasingly inventive and even absurd explanations.

            Many Russians, however, given their experiences with such accidents and with such official reactions, began to talk about “’a second Chernobyl’” and worry about whether it was now safe to live anywhere near the place in Chelyabinsk they but not officials identify as the most probable source of the leak.

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