CHITA, Russia -- Russian authorities have accused the Kremlin's opponents of plenty of misdeeds, but arson has not noticeably been among them -- until now.
President Vladimir Putin's envoy to Siberia suggested on April 17 that the political opposition set wildfires raging in the region in an act of "sabotage."
Nikolai Rogozhkin, Putin's representative in the Siberian Federal District, spoke to government officials in Chita, a provincial capital.
"Let's sketch out the following situation: some group of people -- or the opposition, as they are now called -- got together. They underwent instruction and carried out acts of sabotage by setting fires in various spots."
Rogozhkin said he had flown in a helicopter and seen fire sites in "places where a normal person cannot go, even one who is well-prepared."
"A specially trained person would be needed for this, and it would take at least 24 hours," he said.
Officials said on April 17 that wildfires had spread over 120,000 hectares in Siberia, while the death toll from blazes in the hard-hit Khakasia region reached 30.
Evacuations, casualties, and damage from wildfires has been reported in several other Siberian regions.
Wildfires can be a politically charged phenomenon in Russia, where the effects of natural disasters are sometimes exacerbated by corruption and poor organization.
Kremlin critics accused the government of mishandling devastating fires that burned across parts of the European section of the country in the summer of 2010.
Those blazes killed more than 50 people outright and cast a pall of acrid smog over Moscow and other cities, driving up deaths rates during a punishing heat wave.