ISSN 2330-717X

Magnitogorsk Only Further Tarnishes Russian Emergency Services Ministry’s Bad Reputation – OpEd

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The fact that one child buried in the rubble at the Magnitogorsk explosion was found alive only because his father overrode representatives of the emergency services ministry to show where his son must be has outraged some Russians as yet another example of their government’s indifference to what happens to them.

Moscow commentator Anastasiya Kirilenko says that in “rotting” Europe, as the Putin regime describes it, those responding to a disaster would have done everything possible to try to save the lives of the victims.  But in Russia, “no such efforts” to do so were in evidence (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5C2BC1BD70D50).

Such reactions to the approach of Russian officials, including the decision to pull most of the ambulances away from the scene even before all the missing had been found, are likely to spark demands for a wholesale housecleaning at the Emergency Services Ministry which has already acquired a horrific reputation.

In an article posted on the Versiya portal two days before the events in Magnitogorsk, commentator Aleksandra Volkova points out that major scandals and the results of audits show that the ministry today “is not in a position to fulfill its functions” in a satisfactory manner (versia.ru/pochemu-ministerstvo-po-chrezvychajnym-situaciyam-stremitelno-teryaet-reputaciyu).

Indeed, she says, arrests of its senior officials for malfeasance have been a daily occurrence in recent months.

This marks a major change, Volkova says. When Sergey Shoygu was in charge, the emergency services ministry was among the most respected institutions in the country, according to numerous polls, with people saying that “they steal everywhere except in the ministry for emergency situations.”

“But time passes” and that image has passed away as well. The ministry’s poor performance at the Kemerovo shopping center fire, an event that cost 60 lives, represented a major turning point.  Ever more often since then both ordinary Russians and other Russian officials have questioned the ministry’s capacity to do its job.

Investigations have revealed cases of major bribes, incompetence, and other forms of malfeasance in the ministry, Volkova says.  She details more than half a dozen of them.  And the failure of the ministry to contain wildfires last summer and reduce deaths from fires throughout the year has highlighted the ministry’s lack of needed equipment and skills.

Now, in the wake of Magnitogorsk and fires in Moscow and other Russian cities in recent days, even more questions are certain to be raised about why the ministry doesn’t have the equipment it requires or apparently the commitment it needs to protect Russians. If the Kremlin doesn’t act quickly, ever more Russians are likely to shift the blame from the ministry to it.

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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