Russia is (Still) Burning
Russia watcher trivia quiz: When was the last time Russian ruler Vladimir Putin spoke publicly about Russia’s horrifying problem with residential fire fatalities, and what is his proposal for making Russian homes safer from fire? Bonus points for naming the last family of residential fire victims that Putin visited for comfort.
Last weekend, firey explosions killed eight Russians, seven in Irkutsk and one in St. Petersburg. That’s only a tiny fraction of the nearly 20,000 fire-related fatalities that Putin’s Russia records each year, about fifty each and every single day of the year. In the United States, fires claim the lives of only about 2,500 people per year, nearly eight times less than in Russia, a figure which is all the more stunning when you remember that the U.S. population is twice as large as Russia’s. That means the rate of fire fatality in Russia is more than fifteen times higher per capita than in the United States. Just one more reason that you take your life in your hands every time you choose to spend a night in Russia.
What does Putin have to say about all this?
In 1996, Putin’s personal dacha burned to the ground. He wrote about the incident in his 2000 book First Person: “The firemen arrived, but they ran out of water right away. What do you mean, you’re out of water? There’s a whole lake right here!’ I said. ‘There’s a lake,’ they agreed, ‘but no hose.”’ So it’s not as if Putin is unaware of the problem. Of course, now that he’s the ruler of Russia and has no plans to be anything but for the rest of his life, he may have forgotten.
And the problem is really quite simple. Elena Panfilova, director of the Russian office of Transparency International, sums up the problem: “‘Pretty much nobody follows fire safety standards in Russia, but building owners and tenants negotite bribes with fire inspectors. ‘It is common here. Everyone understands it.” Everyone, it seems, except the man who promised Russia law and order above all things, namely Vladimir Putin.
Just try to find recent remarks by Putin laying out proposals to deal with this problem. Look for a major speech devoted to the issue. Search for discussion of the issue in a press conference or debate. Good luck with that.
Vladimir Putin always has time for sensational public remarks condemning Russia’s foreign “enemies,” from the United States to Estonia to Georgia. But no time to talk about close to 200,000 of his fellow citizens having been burned alive during his time in the Krmelin. He has plenty of money to buy new and better nuclear weapons, and to send bombs to places like Venezuela and Iran, but no money to improve fire safety. He has the resouces to prosecute Mikhail Khodorkovsky and send him to prison for years, but he can’t seem to manage to prosecute the officials of his own government who are flouting basic Russian fire safety rules.