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Mainstream, Vol. XLVIII, No 38, September 11, 2010

Russian Fire

Friday 17 September 2010, by Rakesh Gupta

If Californian fires rage, Russian fires destroy crops. If Californian floods destroy the crops of vine fields in NAPPA, if oil spill destroys marine lives near Mexico, floods overtake Pakistan and China. In all these natural disasters human life is a casualty. Is it man-made? No, not natural disasters, except indirectly, as a result of playing with Nature, if one believes in entropy. It is man-mismanaged. Ask Obama and BPO, they will agree. Ask the Russians. The smog has reached Moscow and the toll is 700 actually, but 450 according to official estimates.

The scourge of fires does not seem to be leaving Moscow. In history Moscow made news of fires proverbially since it was wooden houses and streets that caused it. The famous Moscow fires have been replaced by deadly smog. A character in Alexi Tolstoy said: ‘Tea makes one cry, coffee gives one a headache.’ A character in his novel of Peter the Great mouths this view. The edition of the two-volume novel that I have speaks basically of the power that Russia became under Peter the Great. The first great Emperor also created St. Petersburg—a modern, Western, progressive city. Putin heralds from here. He is contemporary and Western—see his motor cycle driving and Salman Khan-act of being shirtless. If a novelist were to write on his regime trying to be counted as a great power, he would extend the tea-coffee side-effects and add smog kills Russians, beware, wear the masks, though they are no guarantee against the deadly smog. Again, literally it is wood again in forest form.

ALEXI TOLSTOY said in that novel: ‘The Russians have been thrashed, and it’s made monsters of them.’ Peter yelled: “Fool!” The present government is responding to the food crunch this fire already has caused. The export of grains has become a policy issue. The world will not get Russian grain. Kazakhstan has also been given a direction not to export grains. The Russians will have to deal with Ukraine that too exports grain. So how the Putin Government deals with the issue we will have to watch. Once again we are back to the early years of the Soviet Union. Till Khrushchev’s period scarcity of the grain made him shift the economy towards agriculture. During Gorbachev’s perestroika despite grain overproduction people did not get it. This happened owing to the paralysis of the transport system. That happened due to the firing of thousands of Communists for lack of initiative. So there was no transport system worth a mention.

So how will the Russian economic strategy cope with this at the export level? The issue is a significant part of its export strategy. Grain is an important item. Second, if it does not stop this it will have problems at the domestic market. Lastly, Russia needs modernisation as planned with the US. Now with this export strategy how does it propose to deal with the economic crisis that the world and Russia face? Putin said in June that the rise in oil prices by 5.9 per cent would resolve the connected problems.

The author is a former Professor of Political Science, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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