With the number of dead from last weekend’s floods in southern Russia expected to rise as rescue workers continue searching for more victims, officials are tripping over themselves to allocate blame elsewhere.
No one has played that old game better than President Vladimir Putin, who has often appeared more like a pundit commenting on the deplorable state of the country’s infrastructure than the longtime leader who regularly promises to rebuild it. However, Russia’s latest natural disaster is also the first to have taken place since mass protests shook his rule last December, and it’s not clear how he will emerge from the crisis this time.
Although the floods were caused by the fall of a third of the average annual rainfall in some areas, residents suspect the damage was made worse by local officials who decided to open the gates of a nearby reservoir to allow water to run off. They cite that as the most compelling explanation for the severity of floods that carried away houses and cars and killed at least 171 people.
Whatever the truth, the disaster has raised memories of officials’ stunning mishandling of forest fires that raged across the country last year, when local volunteers used social media to organize themselves to battle the blazes.
Putin, who flew to the worst hit town of Krymsk on Saturday and declared Monday a national day of mourning, thundered at local officials for not having done enough to warn residents of the impending disaster. He promised a full investigation.