Fueled by the worst heat wave in Russian memory, peat and forest fires blazed for weeks in central Russia including close to the capital, Moscow. Weeks of temperatures at or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit contributed to the fires, drying out trees and peat marshes; the fires in turn blanketed populated areas with smog. The worst wildfires in modern Russian history have destroyed some 2,000 homes and caused the deaths of more than 50 Russians. At the height of the crisis, at least 550 separate fires were burning on more than 130,000 acres. Acrid smoke smothered Moscow and even seeped into the Metro subway. The capital’s mortality rate has doubled amidst the heat wave.
Russian authorities declared a state of emergency in seven regions, with Nizhny Novgorod, Ryazan, and Voronezh being the worst hit. Hundreds of thousands of emergency workers were mobilized. Of particular concern were the fires that threatened a nuclear reprocessing plant in the southern Urals and a key nuclear weapons facility at Sarov east of Moscow, but these blazes were brought under control. Meanwhile, air traffic at Moscow’s international airports was affected.
The fires were made worse by high-pressure weather conditions caused by the monsoon – a seasonal wind system that drives the circulation of air over much of Asia. The country endured the hottest July since records were first kept in the 1880s, on top of its worst drought in more than a century. As a result, Russia’s grain harvest has withered, and production is expected to be much lower than previously forecast. In addition, Russia may extend a ban on grain exports beyond the end of the year in order to meet shortages in domestic markets.
- Russian Wildfires Shrink, While Temperatures Cool in Moscow
This article updates the wildfire situation to mid-August, by which time some relief was in sight.
(Source: VOA News, August 16, 2010)
- Wildfires Still Hold a Firm Grasp on Russia
This BBC Web page links to videos and additional stories about the spate of deadly wildfires in Russia and their effects especially on the nation’s capital, Moscow.
(Source: BBC News, August 9, 2010)
- The Big Picture: Russian Wildfires
This Web site hosts a collection of 38 photos that dramatically portray the devastating wildfires affecting central Russia this summer.
(Source: Boston.com, August 2, 2010)
- Russia Fires, Pakistan Floods Linked?
This article focuses on the extremes of weather in 2010, from the wildfires in Russia to the monsoon flooding in Pakistan.
(Source: National Geographic, August 11, 2010)
Other Issues in the Region
When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, fifteen republics gained independence. Meanwhile, regions within some of the republics have broken off to form independent governments. Two key examples are the Abkhazia region in Georgia and the Chechnya region in Russia. Despite declaring independence in 1999, Abkhazia has not been recognized as an independent nation, and Georgia continues to try to bring it back into the fold. Since April 2008, however, tensions have risen as Russia has shown support for Abkhazia’s separatist movement, shooting down a Georgian spy plane and bringing troops into the region.
- EU Report Blames Russia and Georgia for Wars
The European Union’s investigation into the Georgia-Russia War in 2008 attributed the outbreak of the war to Georgian actions, but blamed Russia for the “excessive force” of its response.
(Source: Fox News, September 30, 2009)
Soviet Union’s Nuclear Legacy
Fifteen years ago, the end of the Cold War seemed to halt the nuclear showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the years since, the biggest concern about Russia’s and the former Soviet Republics’ nuclear weapons was that they would fall into the hands of terrorists or rogue nations. The fear is not only that terrorists might detonate a nuclear bomb, but that they could also buy or steal radioactive material from Russian nuclear sites and use it to make a “dirty bomb.” The idea of such a bomb would be to use conventional, or regular explosives to spread deadly radiation over a small area.
- All-Clear for Nukes Deal with Russia
The Australian government approved a deal to sell uranium to Russia. The deal took three years to gain approval amid fears that Russia would not abide by promises to use the uranium for non-weapon purposes only.
(Source: The Age, March 19, 2010)
Russia’s transition from a command economy to a market economy has been a difficult one. When the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, the economy collapsed with it. Everything changed, from the laws and the currency of the republics, to the availability and distribution of goods. The years since have been tricky as Russia has moved from communism to capitalism. Shortages and rationing were the order of the day. A government-sponsored liberalization and privatization plan benefited mainly the rich and powerful, leaving average people to suffer.
- Medvedev Approves Changes to Economic Crime Law in Russia
Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has begun implementing his plan for sweeping economic reforms. In April 2010, Medvedev approved a law that aims to reduce abuses of the financial system. The law increases the minimum bail amounts for certain financial crimes in an effort to deter would-be criminals.
(Source: RiaNovosti, April 7, 2010)