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Medvedev Sacks Officers As Thick Smog Engulfs Moscow

  • RFE/RL

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev chaired a meeting of Security Council permanent members at the Kremlin on August 4 on the fires.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev chaired a meeting of Security Council permanent members at the Kremlin on August 4 on the fires.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has fired several high-ranking naval officers in connection with a wildfire that destroyed a naval base outside Moscow last week.

The announcement came as authorities said 48 people were known to have died in the fires that have scorched 130,000 hectares of land across central Russia and sent air-quality levels in Moscow to an eight-year low.

Medvedev cut short his summer vacation to return to Moscow, where he announced the sackings over the base fire and reprimanded Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky and Deputy Navy Commander Aleksandr Tatarinov.

"What we have established shows that what happened [at the base] was caused by dereliction of duty and criminal negligence when it became impossible to localize the fire, which by the way was spreading at a moderate rate, while base commanders were nowhere to be found," Medvedev said.

Last week's fire gutted the entire Kolomna base, destroying 13 hangars containing aviation equipment. While the fire took place on July 29, news of the fire wasn’t officially released until August 3.

The sackings marked the highest-profile career casualties yet from the wildfires that have ravaged vast areas of Russia for weeks.

But some local officials have faced criticism about their response to the disaster.

In the Viksunsky region south of Nizhny Novgorod, fires reportedly burned for two weeks, killing 19 people and destroying 650 homes. The prosecutor-general has opened a criminal investigation into officials' possible negligence.

Additionally, in Sverdlovsk, prosecutors have accused the deputy director of the Denezhin Kamen wildlife preserve of failing to put out a wildfire that destroyed 12,000 hectares of the preserve.

The director of the preserve, Anna Kvashnina, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that officials responded quickly.

But she said regional authorities were too busy tackling fires in another area, and that their efforts were hampered by technical problems.

"There is really no soil [in the preserve], so moss is burning on the rocks. And the first very strong bulldozer that came here broke down the same night," Kvashnina said. "On the night of the 16th of July, we asked the Sverdlovsk division of the Ministry of Emergency Situations' forest aviation protection to come. But they couldn't come because they were busy putting out fires in the Garin region. And furthermore, there were problems finding gas for the helicopter."

Vladimir Rimsky, head of the sociological division of the Moscow-based Information Science for Democracy Foundation, said that, while there have been problems with local officials, the real issue is what he called Russia's inability to predict such disasters.

"[Russia's] current methods of predicting disasters, the diagnosis of effects of disasters, allow huge room for error in predicting what might happen at what time of year," Rimsky said. "The government, on all levels, in this case starting with the municipal level, was completely unprepared to combat these fires."

While earlier it was reported that fires were burning dangerously close to Russia’s nuclear research center at Sarov, a town in the Nizhny Novgorod region, officials say firefighters are working to contain the fire.
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