reports disillusionment in Russia with the authorities’ response to wild fires and deaths resulting from this summer’s heat-wave. Even Ria Novosti, a news agency owned by the Kremlin, records ‘waning support’ for the President and Prime Minister. In particular it quotes a source citing ’growing fatigue surrounding Putin’s popularity’.
The prime minister, as is his style, has publicly taken charge of efforts to combat the wildfires. According to Ria Novosti, he took to the air in order to personally extinguish two blazes, within 200km of Moscow. The story describes Putin’s antics as a ‘stunt’, which, on reflection, is hardly an inaccurate description.
Voices of opposition in the media are even more critical. The horrendous controversialist, Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times, characteristically claims that “in developed countries, citizens don’t perish in fires”. Her fiercest criticism is reserved for Putin, who signed off a ’Forest Code’ in 2007, which prohibited forest rangers from putting out small, naturally occurring wild-fires.
That decision has been cited in a number of articles about the current crisis. At Sublime Oblivion, however, Anatoly Karlin makes a spirited defence of the code. If forests are not permitted ’small contained fires every few years .. layers of dead biomass accumulate’ and the threat of out of control conflagrations becomes substantially more serious.
He argues that an un-containable natural disaster has occurred, due, for the most part, to climate change. The Russian government’s response may well be inadequate, but it could not hope to avoid entirely the backlash which follows any such event.
That is a critical point. No doubt there is a lot of concern and anger in Russia just at the moment. Some of it will be directed at the government. The same happens in any society which is hit by a crisis of this scale. There is certainly no evidence at the moment to suggest that any cover-up has taken place.
Whether the public takes out its frustration on Medvedev and Putin, in the long-term, remains to be seen. It is certainly not the time to judge while Russia is still burning.