Putin, Man on Fire

Author Ralph Peters, writing in the New York Post:

Red-headed spy Anna Chapman is no longer the hottest thing in Russia. Now it’s the 500 out-of-control wildfires devouring thousands of square miles of the countryside.

This conflagration makes California’s annual blazes look like Boy Scout campfires. The fires have consumed entire villages and ravaged the critical wheat harvest; now they threaten a key nuclear-weapons-research facility. A huge naval logistics base burned — along with 200 helicopters and planes.
But the reputation of Russia’s new czar, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, may have been scorched worst of all.

Disasters reveal hidden government weaknesses. Hurricane Katrina highlighted the Bush administration’s lack of domestic preparedness five years after 9/11, while the Gulf oil spill shone a spotlight on the Obama White House’s indifference to working-class Americans. Pakistan’s massive floods have paralyzed its corruption-ravaged government.

Now the disastrous forest and peat-bog infernos encircling Moscow have exposed the Potemkin-village nature of Putin’s vaunted efficiency. All the czar’s men can’t even put out a brush fire.

So the conflagrations have been spreading for weeks as an unprecedented heat wave punishes the country. Russia’s forest service had been virtually disbanded to plug budget gaps elsewhere, leaving rural areas unmanaged. And, as the news mag Der Spiegel points out, the “new” Russia, in all its old vastness, has fewer professional firefighters than Germany — and no trained volunteers. Firefighting vehicles are Soviet-era relics.

In the best Russian tradition, the government and its media lackeys played down the extent of the damage until their con wouldn’t stick any longer. Now Putin (forget President Dmitry Medvedev) has had to swallow his prickly pride to accept help from “lesser” states, such as Belarus, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and distant Italy. And Russia will need much more.

Ukraine has special reason to worry, since the fires are marching through southwest Russia’s Bryansk region toward the dead zone around Chernobyl. Scientists fear that radioactive dust could rise from burned-over soil and be whisked across borders by the wind.

Meanwhile, the plague has reached into the palace. With its gleaming city center, Moscow had become the new Versailles, where a pampered ruling class cavorted while the serfs continued to grub through the muck.

Now Moscow (and dozens of other cities) has been poisoned by smog so dense that Red Square looks like the can’t-see-your-own-hand London of old Sherlock Holmes movies. Flights have been grounded and citizens warned to remain indoors. June’s White Nights gave way to charcoal-gray days in July.

For all Putin’s pretense of ruling a still-great power (a ploy for which President Obama fell in his great START-treaty giveaway), what serious military has generals and admirals so dull-witted and alcohol-sodden that they allow 200 military aircraft to burn up on the ground? Gone in one day, that’s half the aerial-force losses the Soviets took in 10 years in Afghanistan.

Author Ralph Peters, writing in the New York Post:

Of course, senior officers have already been given the sack, and more will go. But the rot goes higher, to the level at which Italian suits replace ill-fitting uniforms.

Russia’s lack of civil-defense preparedness speaks to the Putin regime’s priorities, which always have been recentralizing control of the “commanding heights of the economy,” re-establishing Russian domination of the former empire of the czars — and, above all, remaining in charge.

Only the export of oil, gas and minerals has given Russia an appearance of solvency as its industry rotted away and production collapsed. But government inefficiencies are such that more and more money has had to be siphoned from basic government programs to prop up Russia’s image to the world. Only corruption has thrived. (You can take the KGB vet out of the Soviet Union, but you can’t take the Soviet Union out of the KGB vet . . .)

As you read this, Russian peasants — that’s exactly what they remain — are struggling to save their villages with shovels, hoes and bare hands. Many will never see the least help from their government. It’s as if Californians were expected to fight wildfires on their own (at least the folks on the Left Coast have working garden hoses).

Putin will remain in charge, of course. He has a death grip on the levers of power. But his popularity with embittered Russians anxious to give the West the middle finger may suffer — since they found their new czar’s favorite digit thrust at them.

One response to “Putin, Man on Fire

  1. No Surprises as to the Russian government response to the increase in deaths.
    I suspect the total of 52 dead from the fires is just the tip of the iceberg knowing these lying vermin.

    Moscow ‘hiding heatstroke cases’ after death rate jumps

    Doctors in Moscow are being told not to diagnose heatstroke as a cause of death after a jump in the mortality rate during the heatwave, Russia media say.

    Speaking on condition of anonymity, one doctor said the unofficial instruction being passed down was to use diagnoses that “sound less frightening”.

    A photo shows a note pinned up in a casualty area which reads “Attention! Do not diagnose heatstroke”.


    ‘Off the scale’
    The number of people said to have been killed by the fires directly stands at 54 after two security personnel died fighting flames near the Sarov nuclear research centre in Nizhny Novgorod.

    But little has been revealed officially about the number of people who succumbed to temperatures approaching 40C (104F) and choking smog from the fires.

    National mortality figures for the summer have not been reported and when the city of Moscow revealed on Monday that its daily death rate had more than doubled, the federal government swiftly challenged the figures.

    A nationwide opinion poll published on Thursday suggested that 75% of Russians believed the main effect of the heatwave had been to exacerbate health problems and push up the mortality rate.

    “We have indeed been instructed to stop diagnosing heatstroke,” a doctor told Interfax news agency.

    “We were told that the figures for heatstroke in Moscow had gone off the scale.”

    Another doctor explained to the agency that there had been no formal ban: “Everything is done by word of mouth.

    “Even though the heatwave is now abating, the informal instruction is in force until 1 September.”

    Moscow’s healthcare department was not available for comment, Interfax added.

    Russia’s LifeNews website, which published the photo of the note, was similarly unable to get a response.


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