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Aug 10, 2010

Historic heat to hit Russian growth, fires rage

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s deadly summer heatwave could wipe up to $14 billion off economic growth, economists said on Tuesday, as wildfires raged on in several provinces and forecasters said sweltering weather won’t abate this week.

The worst heatwave on record could knock 1 percentage point off gross domestic product, according to estimates, weakening a recovery from a 2009 slump due to the global financial crisis.

Aug 9, 2010

Death rate doubles in Moscow’s smoke, heat crisis

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Scorching heat and acrid smoke have nearly doubled death rates in Moscow, a city official said on Monday as a shroud of smog from raging forest and peat fires beset Russia’s capital for a third week.

Firefighters battled wildfires covering 1,740 square km (1,075 sq miles) in what the state weather forecaster said was Russia’s worst heat wave for a millennium.

Aug 8, 2010

Accusations of denial as fires and smoke kill in Russia

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow doctors said they were wary of diagnosing patients with heat and smoke-related illnesses out of fear they will lose their jobs, hinting at Russia’s long record of covering up the impact of disasters.

Many Russians have criticized the government’s slow response to the peat and forest fires that have engulfed swathes of Russia and left a harmful smoke cloud that has choked the capital for several days.

Aug 6, 2010

Planes diverted, offices shut as smoke chokes Moscow

MOSCOW, Aug 6 (Reuters) – Dense clouds of acrid smoke from peat and forest fires choked Russia’s capital on Friday, seeping into homes and offices, forcing planes to divert and obliging residents to wear surgical masks on their faces.

Air pollution surged to five times normal levels in the city of 10.5 million, the highest sustained contamination since Russia’s worst heatwave in over a century began a month ago.

"My head aches, I feel nausea and I’m scared for my 83-year-old mother, who feels really bad," said 50-year-old businesswoman Marina Orlova in the centre of Moscow.

Officials urged Muscovites to not venture outdoors because of the dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and fine particles in the air. Weather forecasts said the smoke, which has reached even underground metro stations, would stay until Monday.

"Looking at the overall duration (of the pollution), today’s smoke level is the worst yet," said Alexei Popikov, an expert on air quality at Moscow’s state-run pollution monitoring agency.

Looking across Red Square on Friday, dense smoke shrouded the famous onion domes of St Basil’s cathedral and the Kremlin spires. NASA satellite images showed a 3,000 km-long (1,850 mile) smoke cloud covering large swathes of European Russia.

Moscow temperatures reached 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) on Friday and have touched the high 30s recently.

The deadliest wildfires in nearly four decades have killed at least 52 people and left thousands homeless as entire villages of wooden homes burned down, official figures say.

However the true toll from the smoke and heatwave may be much higher. Interfax news agency quoted an "informed source" on Friday saying death rates in Moscow surged nearly 30 percent in July because of the "disastrous heat and smoke cloud".

One of the world’s top grains producers, Russia has announced a temporary ban on exports after crops were ravaged by the dry weather. The news sent world wheat prices soaring.

Despite a huge effort involving over 150,000 people fighting fires, authorities appeared to be losing the battle.

The size of peat fires burning in the Moscow region almost doubled from 37.5 hectares on Thursday to 65.7 hectares on Friday, the regional branch of the Emergencies Ministry said on its website.

The emergency has prompted the country’s enfeebled opposition to complain of poor fire safety readiness and a slow, ineffective government response. Media noted that Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov was on holiday as the smoke engulfed his city.


Russia’s state-controlled media have been at pains to show a vigorous government effort to fight the blazes and have avoided detailed reporting on the hazards to health.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has toured fire-stricken regions promising generous compensation to residents and ordering officials to step up efforts to extinguish the blazes.

The government has warned that the fires could pose a nuclear threat by releasing into the atmosphere radioactive particles buried in trees and plants from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Russia’s nuclear chief, Sergei Kiriyenko, said on Thursday that fire was raging near a nuclear arms-producing facility in the closed town of Sarov, though he assured President Dmitry Medvedev that all explosive and radioactive material had been removed.

Around 500 soldiers were felling trees to create firebreaks in a forest burning near Sarov in the Nizhny Novgorod region east of Moscow, the state-run RIA news agency cited Defence Ministry Col. Sergei Dorozhkin as saying.

The first Soviet nuclear weapon was made in 1949, in Sarov at the Institute of Experimental Physics, which continues to be the main nuclear design and production facility in Russia.

The smoke will not clear for at least three days, according to Fobos weather agency, which provides forecasts for some of Russia’s largest media outlets.

A spokeswoman for Russia’s biggest airport Domodedovo said 15 planes had been diverted to other airports in Russia and 25 flights delayed after visibility fell to around 400 metres (yards). By the afternoon, the airport was operating normally.

Russia’s aviation authority said at least 60 planes had been diverted to as far away as Ukraine from Moscow’s busy airports. Flights and trains out of Moscow were booked solid as residents tried to flee the smoke.

Employees in offices across Moscow were being sent home as oppressive, thick smoke filtered into buildings. A spokesman for Russia’s No. 1 retailer X5 said all 1,500 staff were ordered home.

"I can smell smoke right here in the office," an employee at a mid-sized Russian bank, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. A trader in another medium-sized bank said smoke had entered the building and staff were given permission to leave.

Employees at several businesses that use couriers and on-foot delivery men told Reuters they were reluctant to process small orders on Friday as they did not want to step outside.

Many Muscovites sent their families out of the city to stay at summer residences in the countryside. Although the smoke affected many of these, residents said air quality was still better because of the lack of vehicle pollution. (Additional reporting by Alexei Anishchuk, Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, Maria Plis, Dmitry Sergeyev, Andrey Ostroukh, writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman and Michael Stott, Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Heinrich)

Aug 6, 2010

Planes diverted and offices close as Moscow chokes

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Planes were diverted from Moscow airports on Friday after huge peat and forest fires blanketed the capital in acrid smoke, forcing some businesses to close and office workers to wear surgical masks at their desks.

Pollution surged to five times normal levels in the city of 10.5 million, the highest sustained contamination since Russia’s worst heatwave in more than a century began a month ago. Officials urged Muscovites to not venture outdoors.

Aug 5, 2010

Russia fires pose nuclear threat, death toll hits 50

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian government warned on Thursday that the country’s deadliest wildfires in nearly four decades posed a nuclear threat if they are not contained, as the death toll rose to 50 and the blazes continued to spread.

The worst heatwave in more than a century is set to intensify on Friday, with record temperatures of 40 celsius (104 fahrenheit) expected and to continue into the next week, weather forecasters said.

Aug 4, 2010

Chechen rebel chief says not stepping down: website

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Chechen rebel Doku Umarov said in an Internet video posting on Wednesday that he will not step down as leader of the Islamist insurgency in Russia’s North Caucasus, in an apparent U-turn from his earlier resignation.

Umarov was shown speaking in a video on the unofficial Islamist website, which had reported on Sunday that he was stepping down for health reasons and would hand over leadership of the insurgency to Aslambek Vadalov.

Jul 28, 2010

New Russia holiday marked as Kremlin boosts Church

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia marked its adoption of Christianity in 988 on Wednesday with a new public holiday, the latest show of Kremlin support for an Orthodox Church that has grown increasingly powerful since the fall of Communism.

Rights groups have criticized the new holiday, approved by President Dmitry Medvedev, as undermining Russia’s secular constitution and members of the country’s large Muslim minority have complained that it excludes them.

Jul 26, 2010

Jolie spurs Russian patriotism at “Salt” Moscow show

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Angelina Jolie whipped up Soviet-era nostalgia and patriotism for Mother Russia at the Moscow premiere of her spy thriller “Salt.”

Clad in a floor-length Versace gown she described as “Russian Red,” Jolie blew kisses to thousands of fans who came to watch her play a suspected Russian double agent in the blockbuster, which opened at No. 2 in the U.S. at $36.5 million.

Jul 22, 2010

Kremlin says to fire security aides if Caucasus attacks recur

MOSCOW/ATAZHUKINO, Russia, July 22 (Reuters) – President
Dmitry Medvedev threatened on Thursday to sack top security
officials if they fail to prevent more attacks on strategic
assets in Russia’s North Caucasus after suspected Islamist
rebels bombed a hydropower plant there.

Six masked men stormed the power plant in Kabardino-Balkaria
on Wednesday, shot dead two guards and set off remote-controlled
bombs beside the main generator units, investigators for the
prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

    • About Amie

      "Based in Kabul, Amie reports on the NATO-led war in Afghanistan. She was previously based in Moscow, where she reported across the former Soviet Union for almost five years, covering energy, politics and lifestyle stories. For over two years there, she focused on the Islamist insurgency in Russia's Muslim North Caucasus. She has also reported in Greece and Britain."
      Joined Reuters:
      September 2006
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