Staunton, August 10 – As forest fires rage out of control in Siberia and the Putin regime continues to demonstrate how unprepared it is to cope and downplays their size and impact, some commentators are warning that this combination is likely to provoke mass political protests under environmentalist banners.
Moscow’s response has been too little and too late, and its efforts to shit the blame for the fires away from itself are backfiring, observers say. Everyone in Russia knows who controls the money and who decides on policy, and it isn’t local or regional officials. Blaming them only calls attention to Moscow’s shortcomings (newizv.ru/article/general/10-08-2021/tsena-vranya-i-umolchaniya-lesnye-pozhary-grozyat-narodnymi-buntami).
No one doubts that popular anger about the fires and the government’s response is growing, but commentator Abbas Gallyamov, who earlier served as a Putin speechwriter, says the attitudes of the population have reached the point that “the next mass protest in Russia may begin” but not end with this environmental issue (rosbalt.ru/posts/2021/08/10/1915456.html).
In the current situation, he argues, Russia needs leaders who will acknowledge the problems and work with local people to resolve them rather than suggest that everything is under control when it clearly isn’t and refuse to interact with those who are most immediately threatened by the spreading fires.
Time is not on the side of the authorities, Gallyamov says. “In the month remaining before the elections, they won’t be able to make the branch more politically adequate.” The fires and Moscow’s response are thus going to cost United Russia a mass of votes and likely lead to environmental protests as well.
Moscow should recognize how dangerous this can become given the experiences of the USSR at the end of the 1980s. “The disintegration of the Union,” he says, “began with the falling away of the Baltics and that in turn began with the protests of the population of Estonia angry about Moscow’s plans to mine phosphorites.”
The Estonian anger was multiplied by fury in Latvia and Lithuania over Moscow’s plans to build a hydro-electric station near Daugavpils and start a third energy bloc at the Ignalina atomic energy station, Gallyamov continues. “Politics then in large measure grew out of environmental concerns.”
This could happen again and with equally fatal consequences for the territorial integrity of the country, he suggests.