Staunton, August 1 – There is a much debate as to how the fires now engulfing huge portions of Siberia and the Russian Far East got started with some blaming the US, others the Chinese, and still others Russian criminal elements. But there is no question, experts say, about why Russia today is incapable of fighting them.
Over the last decade, Vladimir Putin in the name of cost-cutting “optimization” has eliminated much of the country’s fire-fighting capability, closing down programs to create fire walls to prevent the spread of fires and shuttering fire-fighting centers. Now, as Rosbalt sums up expert opinion, “nature is settling accounts” (rosbalt.ru/russia/2019/08/01/1795188.html).
Journalist Dmitry Remizov says that at present “about three million hectares of forest are burning” sending animals and people fleeing and smoke over much of the Russian Federation. Now Moscow has thrown the army against the fires, but three experts say the reasons the fires have spread so far are political.
Grigory Kuksin, head of the fire fighting section of Greenpeace Russia, says that the fires arose for various reasons including the most banal but the failure of officials to respond quickly and immediately has allowed them to spread and get beyond control. A major reason for that failure, he says, is that the regions no longer have the means to do so.
To save money, Moscow has reduced the number of monitoring stations and fire-fighting centers; and as a result, even if the regional authorities had been prompt – and they haven’t been in most cases, Kuksin says – they would not have been able to do much. They simply lack the resources they used to have.
Ilya Grashenkov, the head of the Center for the Development of Regional Policy, agrees. The country’s monitoring capacity has been cut back to the point where fires can grow to enormous size before anyone takes note of that. The federal center bears responsibility for such cutbacks.
The emergency services ministry is able to respond to limited disaster, but neither it nor the powers that be “are very prepared for an all-national misfortune,” be it fires or floods. “’Optimization’” simply eliminated forest stations that monitored things and as a result the country is now suffering from a fire of unprecedented size.
A clear indication of that, Grashennkov says, is that today, officials are busily blaming each other.
And Andrey Skovorodnikov, head of Krasnoyarsk’s Fore a Clear Sky movement, says that Russians are waking up to the fact that the reason the fires aren’t being combatted effectively lies with the country’s politicians. In his city, people are demanding the ouster of the governor.
Given that Moscow not Krasnoyarsk controls the resources, getting rid of the governor may not do much good. Instead, although Skovorodnikov avoids saying so, it will ultimately be necessary to get rid of the one person responsible for the irresponsible cutbacks in Russia’s fire-fighting capacity, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.