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The Recent Series of Safety Disasters in Russia Highlights the Authorities' Unwillingness to Confront Them
Dan Peleschuk - Russia Profile - russiaprofile.org - 4.3.12 - JRL 2012-62

A string of public tragedies this week seems to have reinforced Russia's unfortunate reputation of being disaster-prone. From horrifying airplane crashes to deadly fires, such incidents only further fuel the notion that Russia remains a dangerous place to live. And with no end in sight to the worrying consistency of public disasters, the authorities seem resigned to Russia's perpetual bad luck.

It has been a terrible start to the week for Russia. In just two days, nearly 50 people were killed in a rapid-fire spate of tragedies that highlight Russia's dire public safety situation.

First, an airliner traveling from the Siberian city of Tyumen to Surgut on April 2 crashed shortly after taking off, killing 31 people instantly and landing another 12 in critical condition at nearby hospitals. Russian media have reported that investigators are pointing to the ground crew's failure to properly de-ice the plane before departure ­ another sign of the human error factor present in so many other air tragedies.

The disaster arrives just six months after a YAK-42 crash killed the entire Yaroslavl-based Lokomotiv hockey team in an accident that investigators also chalked up to human error. President Dmitry Medvedev pledged after that tragedy to overhaul Russian air safety standards ­ Russia was ranked in 2011 as having the world's worst air safety record ­ and introduce new foreign aircraft into Russian fleets. Yet the French-made ATR 72 in the Tyumen crash prompted some to speculate that the authorities have run out of options.

Prominent journalist Alexander Minkin berated the lack of meaningful aviation safety policy in an entry posted on Echo of Moscow's Web site shortly after the crash. "When the YAK-42 with the hockey players crashed, president Medvedev demanded to immediately get rid of all these [outdated Russian] planes and buy foreign ones 'at any cost,'' he wrote. "But when a foreign aircraft crashed today, our patented statesman said nothing of the sort."

In a follow-up tragedy on April 3, a deadly fire tore through a southern Moscow market and killed at least 17 people, most them believed to have been migrant workers from Central Asia. Investigators pointed to the possibility of a faulty space heater as the primary cause, also noting that the migrants were likely trapped inside their metal-lined shanty, in which they lived in severely overcrowded conditions.

Such incidents are an unfortunate commonplace in Russia, where public safety standards are often skirted and the individuals responsible for overseeing such affairs are prone either to a lingering sense of carelessness and irresponsibility or corruption. There is little yet to suggest either of these factors played key roles in this week's tragedy, but the events themselves shift the focus toward the worrying consistency with which such disasters take place in Russia.

They also beg the question, however, of the official response ­ or lack thereof ­ to such tragedies. While Medvedev canceled his planned meeting with the opposition and addressed the air crash in a meeting with Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova, he simply ordered her to speed up efforts at investigating the crash and consoling the victims' families. Prime Minister Vladimir P