As Russia counts its dead from yet another summer tragedy, investigations continue into how flooding had killed 171 in Krymsk, near the Black Sea. “A system to warn the residents was set up,” confessed Emergency Minister Vladimir Puchkov yesterday, “but, unfortunately, not everyone was warned early enough.” The regional governor immediately dismissed the head of the Krymsk district for mishandling the situation.
But even though the Kremlin has spent much of yesterday trying to pass the buck to the local authorities, much of the foreign news coverage has understandably framed the episode as another straw in the population’s growing disillusionment with the authoritarian Vladimir Putin.
But as the Guardian points out, disasters like this tend to reinforce the idea of the Russian state as too weak, rather than too strong, for comfort.
“So often accused from afar of being the strongman of a strong state, Mr Putin, as viewed from Krymsk and many other disaster zones like it, is the exact opposite – a weak man presiding over a collapsing state, one hard put to deliver the bare minimum of emergency services.”
Of course, this does not mean that the disaster will play into Putin’s hands. Quite the contrary. The current brand of top-down “manual” control and centralised micro-management has been blamed for the sluggish response in disseminating the flood warnings. Nevertheless, Putin appears to have managed to deflect the brunt of the public’s anger. So far, the biggest kind of activism unleashed by the floods has been civil rather than political. All that can quickly change, however, depending on how well or poorly the government handles the disaster’s aftermath: rebuilding houses and providing emergency food, shelter, and relief to the thousands left homeless and penniless.