ROAR: Regional party bosses face dismissals for vacationing despite wildfires

The functionaries of the ruling United Russia party may follow several state officials who have been dismissed for not cutting short vacations as the country fights the wildfires.

The presidium of the party’s general council will gather on August 16 to discuss the behavior of secretaries of regional political councils in the Ryazan, Voronezh and Moscow Regions and the chairman of the Moscow Region Duma, Vedomosti daily reported. Heads of the party’s executive committees in Nizhny Novgorod Region and the Republic of Mordovia will also have to answer before the party’s leaders, the paper said.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the secretary of the general council’s presidium, earlier this month held a meeting devoted to this problem and threatened by sanctions “for light-mindedness at this important moment,” the daily said.

The president and the prime minister “are touring regions and fighting wildfires,” Volodin told the paper. The members of the party also should be with people at this difficult moment, he said.

“If an emergency situation is declared, everyone should be at their places, and we want them to do this without reminders from Moscow,” he explained. He added that each case would be considered individually.

However, many of the secretaries said they had good reasons for the absence. The secretary of the Ryazan regional organization, Arkady Fomin, had difficulties with acquiring return tickets while spending a vacation abroad, the paper said.

The secretaries of the party’s regional committees in Voronezh and Moscow regions Irina Trankova and Igor Bryntsalov, have their own reasons, as has the chairman of the Moscow Region Duma Valery Aksakov, the paper said.

The leaders of the party’s regional committees should have organized the fight against wildfires in time, Volodin said. However, he noted that “not only negative, but also positive examples of the work amid wildfires will be named.” In particular, he praised the activities of ordinary members of the party and its youth wing, the Young Guard, in the Voronezh Region and the Republic of Mordovia.

The Young Guard, commenting on the Vedomosti article, has criticized their senior colleagues. “How could one sunbathe on a beach and sip a cocktail when your country is in danger, when thousands of your compatriots are facing disaster?” the organization’s website asked.

However, United Russia party intends to thank several deputies of the State Duma who helped gather money for people who suffered from wildfires. Deputy Nikolay Olshansky, for example, has gathered more than 30 million rubles (approximately $1 million), and personally donated 1.5 million rubles, Vedomosti said.

The current wave of heat and smog may see positions of many politicians at different levels shattered.

The prime minister and head of United Russia, Vladimir Putin, met with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov on August 10 to discuss the situation in the city following the arrival of thick smog. “You certainly were right to cut short your leave and return to the city,” Putin told the mayor.

Putin himself co-piloted an amphibious plane in the Ryazan Region on August 10 to help put out two forest fires during a half-hour flight.

At the same time, the media note that an anonymous Kremlin source had criticized the mayor for not returning from vacation earlier. It is good that Luzhkov came back to perform his duties, “but it’s too bad this wasn’t done earlier,” the source told Interfax on August 10.

“The mayor's absence obviously did not help the necessary decisions to have been made in timely fashion,” he said. In such situations, “it is extremely important for the authorities to be at work and take all the necessary measures every minute to help residents and visitors,” he added.

Luzhkov had instructed the officials to take all necessary measures before his vacation. But the center of the problems is outside Moscow, and “nothing depends on the city authorities in dealing with the current environmental situation,” Luzhkov’s press secretary Sergey Tsoy told Interfax.

The criticism leveled at Luzhkov shows “a weakening in his authority,” Gleb Pavlovsky, the president of the Efficient Politics Foundation, told the agency. “It really took Luzhkov too long to come back to work from leave,” he said.

The mayor had “underestimated the political situation, and he underestimated how serious and tense the situation in Moscow is,” Pavlovsky noted. “Surely, he is in a very weak position now and worsened it even more by saying, amid all that is happening, that the situation in Moscow is quite normal,” the analyst opined.

According to Pavlovsky, Putin “joked when he told Luzhkov that he returned from vacation on time, and he so demonstrated that Luzhkov was in his hands.” Putin “might have pinned some expectations” on the mayor, the analyst noted. “There might even be some election factors here,” he explained. “Luzhkov’s entourage is still quite strong, and United Russia could well use this.”

Meanwhile, Russian Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik has fired the Moscow forestry chief Sergey Gordeychenko. On August 9, President Dmitry Medvedev demanded that senior forestry officials who chose not to cut short their vacations despite the raging blazes be fired. Earlier this month Medvedev fired several high-ranking naval officers after a wildfire had destroyed a naval base in the Moscow Region.

At the same time, on August 10 the president defended the heads of municipalities where wildfires have destroyed some settlements. “Even if they had started getting ready for this ten years ago, they would not have been able to do anything,” Medvedev was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying. Rich forest resources and the scope of the country are its advantages, but they bring additional difficulties in this case, the president noted.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT