By Paul Goble
Russian commentaries yesterday and today have been focused almost entirely on the Kemerovo fire, the way in which Vladimir Putin and his regime have responded, and the likely consequences of the fire and the response on the future of Putin and the Russian Federation.
Many of these commentaries deserve more extended treatment than Window on Eurasia can provide, but in order that some of the most important arguments and conclusions aren’t missed, below are ten observations that appear especially insightful or indicative about the crisis Russia finds itself in. They are:
- “The state exists in Russia only for itself” and does not fulfil the most important function for the population, that of guaranteeing physical security, according to Novaya Gazeta commentator Kirill Martynov. Moreover, he says, contacts between the government and the people have completely broken down (ru/articles/2018/03/27/75953-vlast-v-sebe).
- This distance has been underlined by the fact that those in power, including Putin, no longer talk about Russians as human beings and victims but only as markers of the regime’s need for demographic growth and the defense of territory, Ivan Belyayev of Radio Svoboda says (livejournal.com/3442168.html).
- Putin’s failure to meet with the people and his closeting himself only with officials offers “a good characteristic of the existing political system.” In it, Moscow blogger Alekssey Melnikov says, “the people are nobodies and the bosses are everything” (ru/material.php?id=5ABA9BC740938).
- Putin bears responsibility for what happened not because he caused the fire but because he created a power vertical that opened the way to such disasters, Rosbalt commentator Sergey Shelin says (ru/blogs/2018/03/27/1691962.html).
- Putin’s power vertical can’t work in time of tragedies and the Kremlin leader compounds this by politicizing grief and thus appears to trivialize it in the minds of many, according to Moscow political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin (ru/selected/entry/135708).
- The tragedy of Kemerovo is that it shows that Putin’s system does not allow local people to speak to the population and requires that they wait until the Kremlin leader appears, something that happens far too late as crises multiply, according to two Vedomosti journalists (ru/politics/articles/2018/03/27/755093-tragediya-kemerove-pokazala-nesposobnost-mestnoi).
- People died because the Russian regime cared more about fighting terrorism and thus required doors to be locked than about protecting and ultimately saving the lives of Russian people, according to independent security expert Dmitry Borishchuk (ru/articles/2018/03/27/75956-zapasnye-vyhody-zakryvayut-iz-za-profilaktiki-terrorizma).
- While the regime hasn’t yet identified the causes of the fire in Kemerovo, its security services have already arrested a Ukrainian prankster for exaggerating the number of losses (ru/news/2018/03/28/140547-sk-vozbudil-delo-protiv-ukrainskogo-prankera-on-zayavil-o-300-pogibshih-v-kemerovo), and the Duma has taken up a new law to impose tighter restrictions on journalists covering disasters (apn.ru/index.php?newsid=37181).
- All too many Russians have fallen back into old patterns and blamed the fire on “persons of Caucasian nationality” (ru/news/incident/27-03-2018/direktor-kemerovskoy-zimney-vishni-obvinila-v-podzhoge-podrostkov and onkavkaz.com/news/2183-chudovischnaja-provokacija-direktor-zimnei-vishni-popytalas-vozlozhit-vinu-za-pozhar-na-kavkazc.html http://fedpress.ru/news/42/society/2002962), foreigners in general (kommersant.ru/doc/3586564), or Western intelligence services in particular (politobzor.net/162755-wada-ne-ugomonitsya-agentstvo-poyasnilo-plany-suditsya-so-sportsmenami-rf.html).
- And some are even hoping to exploit this disaster to go after their most hatred, including in the case of Rex commentator Modest Kolerov Russian liberals for their negative comments about the Russian government’s response in Kemerovo (ru/articles/56864.html).