Monday, March 26, 2018

Kemerovo Disaster Fits into a Larger and Even More Tragic Russian Pattern

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 26 – The horrific fire at the mall in Kemerovo that has already claimed upwards of 70 lives is but the latest in a series of such disasters ranging from plane crashes and sunken submarines to fires and floods that represent a sad punctuation on Russian life  (

            But adding to the horror of such events is the way Russian officials, media and most commentators treat them. First, officials arriving at the scene show they have no real plans as to how best to respond (  Then, the media play down the disaster until the Kremlin gives an alternative signal or the disaster becomes too big to ignore (

            And even before all the victims are recovered and identified, Russians begin to ask the inevitable question -- “who is to blame?” ( -- all too often offering candidates other than officials and businessmen who have failed to live within the rules.

So far in this case, some in the Russian media have suggested tabloid-style that somehow the British government is to blame, picking up on the enemy of the week in Russia today ( Others have gone even further blaming this all too human tragedy on the abstract but evil forces of capitalism (

Of course, there have been more thoughtful responses; and one of these, by opposition politician Gennady Gudkov, merits attention because he focuses less on the specific facts of this case, many of which have yet to be identified and instead offers three reasons why such disasters keep happening in Russia (

“Trade centers, hospitals, homes for the elderly, fires and other objects burn in Russia and will continue to burn,” he says. “The causes are well-known: total corruption, the economic crisis and the lying of officials. In a word, the typically ugly work of the current authorities in Russia.

Corruption means builders can buy their way out of having to install necessary safety devices; the economic crisis means that the owners of these facilities are forced to cut corners in order to try to make ends meet; and official lying means that no one knows in advance just how ill-prepared fire fighters are. If they did, they might act; but they don’t -- and don’t.

Tragically, there is one more way in which this latest disaster is likely to be all its predecessors: it is unlikely to produce any real changes. Leaders will promise to do something, but they have always done that – and over the last two decades, Russians have learned that there is another disaster waiting to happen (

And that is not just the opinion of pessimists. Sergey Yepishin, the head of the Moscow Institute of Industrial Security, said in the wake of the Kemerovo disaster that there is every reason to believe there will be more fires and deaths even though prompt and obvious actions could prevent many of them from happening (

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