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Medvedev to send officials to wildfires frontline

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Wednesday told officials they would personally have to douse blazes this summer if they fail to prevent a repeat of last year’s deadly wildfires.

“Consider it a shake-up, your last warning,” a stern-looking Kremlin chief told a government meeting at his Gorky residence outside Moscow.

“If you don’t cope, then all of you will douse the peat bogs — both the Moscow region government and the Russian (federal) government,” he said in televised remark.

“Consider it a most important task ahead of the coming summer.”

The latest cutting remark from an increasingly assertive Medvedev came after officials said the main preventive measures to stave off the fires would begin next month.

Medvedev responded that all the preparations should have been done earlier.

Russia last summer found itself unprepared for a major calamity when an unprecedented heatwave coupled with noxious smog from burning peat bogs around Moscow wiped out the harvest and doubled mortality rates in the capital.

Environmentalists have said the catastrophe would repeat in the coming years unless the authorities reinstate the forestry agencies eliminated under Medvedev’s predecessor in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, in an apparent attempt to save money.

Early fires have already started in Siberia, where officials in the region of Tyva have for several weeks been battling blazes sparked by dry weather coupled with a sudden spike in temperatures after a long winter, the emergencies ministry said.

In December, the Russian government found itself helpless in the face of another weather anomaly — freezing rain — which wreaked havoc in Moscow, disrupting holiday plans of thousands of air travellers.

Russia is headed for presidential elections next year and while neither Putin nor Medvedev has confirmed he will run, the president has upped his rhetoric in a possible attempt to burnish a tough-guy image.