Friday, April 17, 2015

Putin’s Man in Siberia Blames Russian Opposition for Forest Fires

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 17 – One of the most disturbing passages of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s story, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” comes when Ivan is told by a fellow GULAG prisoner that because the Soviet Union has day light savings time, it isn’t noon when the sun is at its zenith but rather 1:00 pm.


            Denisovich says to himself, in Solzhenitsyn’s telling, that this apparently means that in the USSR, the government controls even the movements of the heavenly bodies, a state-centric view of reality whose frightening consequences continue to echo in Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation.


            The world has long grown accustomed to Moscow’s claims that it was the CIA or some other nefarious “dark force” rather than the Ukrainian people who organized the Maidan that unified Ukraine and confirmed that country’s European choice, a view that polls suggest all too many people in Russia and elsewhere tragically think needs to be taken seriously.


            But now, Russian officialdom has outdone itself in its obsession with “dark forces” and its notion that nothing can happen naturally or politically that is not their doing.  Nikolay Rogozhkin, Putin’s plenipotentiary for Siberia, has declared that “a group of ‘opposition arsonists’” is behind the forest fires that continue to spread across his region (


            Rogozhkin said he “could not understand” how fires could happen in several districts all at once and speculated that “a group of ‘specially instructed members of the opposition” must be behind them (


            His comments reflect both the vocabulary and kind of argument Putin has popularized in recent years, an argument which of course can and likely will be used against the opposition regardless of the truth of the charges Moscow’s officials are making, and his own background as an interior ministry forces general and former first deputy interior minister.


            The plenipotentiary, who has held his current office since May 2014, first attracted attention for his role in the hostage crises at Dubrovka in Moscow and in Beslan (


            Anatoly Baranov, the editor of Forum.MSK said that in his opinion” after such a declaration of the presidential plenipotentiary it will be necessary to conduct a broad-scale punitive operation in the search for opposition arsonists.” After all, “if Udaltsov is a German spy, then why can’t Sarkisyan be a Siberian arsonist?”



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