Staunton, January 28 – A recent series of aircraft crashes both military and civilian in Siberia have thrown into high relief a trend few want to acknowledge: the logistical system including planes, airfields, and hospitals that existed there in Soviet times has not been replaced even though Moscow relies on the region’s natural resources for its wealth.
Aleksey Tarasov of “Novaya gazeta” describes some of these accidents which he says are the product of the collapse of the system that had been in place earlier to deal with the special challenges of harsh weather conditions and enormous distances in Russia’s Far North (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/01/27/71299-starye-krylya-nesut-smert).
Now when planes crash because there are no longer the numerous airfields there were, the number of experienced pilots and weather-capable aircraft has declined, and there are no hospitals nearby to treat those wounded, he says, Russians die because even the military often lacks the ability to get the victims immediate help or even to fly them out to faraway facilities.
Indeed, Tarasov sums up his findings in the title of his article, “Old Wings Bring Death.”
In Soviet times, as a result of competition with the West, Moscow built “hundreds of airports” in Krasnoyarsk Kray, Irkutsk Oblast and Sakha.” From there one could fly everywhere in the USSR, including Moscow and Leningrad. It build workhorse planes that could function in bad weather. And it supported hospitals and medical points.
Now, Tarasov says, almost all that infrastructure has disappeared even though the central government is more dependent on extracting wealth from the North than it was. “What would have happened,” he says pilots ask, “if in late Soviet times, flights were as restricted as they are now?”
The old debate between the Slavophiles and the Westernizers about whether Russia’s size is a source of strength or a burden producing weakness continues in a new form, the commentator says. Now, the debate is between those in Moscow who come up with pie in the sky plans like a northern railway and a tunnel to Alaska and those who say “there is no life” beyond “the Moscow city ring/the Volga/the Urals.”
A major reason for this new debate, Tarasov continues, is that those in the center spin tales rather than function “as a capital of a real Federation, one in which donor regions could be concerned about themselves” and their populations rather than having to hand over all the money to Moscow and see their own infrastructure disappear.
All too many in the past and again now act as if Moscow can continue to ignore the needs of the people who live and work in the Far North and other regions of the country, he points out, but concludes that whether Moscow likes it or not, “Russia is fated to deal with these spaces and without them, it will lose itself.”
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