Anger grows in Russia press over slack fire response

11th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Anger mounted in Russia's press Wednesday over the official response to the worst wildfires in the country's history, with questions asked even over the PR tactics of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

In typical strongman style, Putin had the day earlier taken to the air in a water bombing jet to douse fires in one of the worst effected regions, his latest trip to emphasise the authorities were on top of the situation.

"His PR-engineers can think of nothing more other than to yet again sit him behind the controls of an aircraft," leading business daily Vedomosti commented bitterly.

"Or a tractor, or a submarine, or to stroke a bear in the Far North, or save tigers in the Far East," it added, recalling other famous stunts by the prime minister in recent times.

"This is a tunnel vision of the PR-makers who believe that a TV picture of Putin behind the wheel of something is an eternal panacea for a falling rating," it added.

Pollsters have noted a fall in the popularity ratings of President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin in recent weeks, even though it remains to be seen how these figures will be impacted by the fires.

The usually staunchly pro-Kremlin daily Moskovsky Komsomolets said sarcastically that the "Russian authorities are heroically (if you believe the television reports) fighting the forest fires."

"They are fighting the fires, having allowed these fires right from the start to reach a catastrophic magnitude," it said.

Blaming a decision to change Russia's forestry laws for the extent of the crisis, it added: "Is it not in emergency situations that the solidity of the whole system of state management has to show its quality?"

"Otherwise why are we feeding presidents, prime ministers, ministers, governors, deputies, army officials or simply the army?"

Vedomosti outlined a string of failures by regional officials in the worst affected regions.

These included the mayor of Moscow staying on holiday for a "sports injury treatment" and regional bosses who carried on with business as normal like welcoming athletes and opening a greenhouse for roses.

"Forecasters predicted an extraordinarily hot summer at the start of spring. The drought and the unprecedented heat started in some regions at the beginning of July," Vedomosti noted.

"It would seem that governors and local authorities should have prepared populated areas and local people earlier for the possible fires."

The newspaper noted that Medvedev earlier this week warned political opponents not to try and profit from the crisis by carrying out "political PR".

"But Putin's flight shows that the authorities are willingly using this method. The necessity for the premier to put out a fire was nothing other than one of PR," it said.

© 2010 AFP

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