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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon.
Colleagues, at a recent Security Council meeting I said that we need to heed the lessons learned last year and ascertain how ready our fire-prevention services are to prevent wildfires this year, including in the Moscow Region.
We plan to visit Lytkarino in the Moscow Region today. We have not even left yet, but people are writing already that, “We can already smell the smoke from the peat bogs in the town at night, a month earlier than last year”. People are already writing about this, even though the weather warmed up only a few days ago. The fact that they are writing is a worrying sign because it means that the peat bogs in the southeast are already smouldering, and the wind is coming from precisely that direction. In other words, it could all be set ablaze in an instant.
I instructed the Government to draft proposals on the prevention measures we can take. As far as I know, steps have already been taken. I want to get a picture of the real situation with the prevention efforts in the Moscow Region and other regions. Lytkarino in this sense represents just one example, one town among the many in the densely populated Moscow Region.
The start of summer is just around the corner after all, and so I want to know what has been accomplished so far, and what the next steps will be. Mr Zubkov, as I understand it, you were responsible for coordinating this work in the Government. I ask you to brief us on the situation first, and I will hear what the others have to say.
First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov: Mr President, colleagues, after last year’s bitter experience, the Government has held regular linkup meetings with the relevant services around the country. This is a new practice for us and we have been holding these meetings on a regular basis from the Government offices, the Emergencies Ministry’s operations and monitoring centre, and the Federal Agency for Forestry.
This year, the Government established an inter-ministerial working group on fire prevention in forests and peat bogs. It meets each week to discuss the state of preparations for the fire hazardous season, make all the required decisions in rapid time, and send regular reports to the ministries and agencies.
In the last three months alone, I have held 8 government meetings on this issue: on February 9 we examined the work to flood the Moscow Region peat bogs, and examined the results of the fire season; on March 25 the inter-ministerial working group held a meeting on ensuring fire safety; and April 5, 6, 12, and 25, just three days ago, we held linkup meetings on flooding the Moscow Region peat bogs.
As far as these meetings’ results go, first, we have identified a total of 65,500 peat bogs that need to be flooded. This is a very big number, and they are all in different locations, some on land classified as forest, others on state-reserve land, some in the private sector, and some on the sites of federal state institutions.
Last year, 300 million rubles [$10.8 million] were allocated for preliminary measures to fight and extinguish the peat bog fires. As at April 1 this year, 9 percent of the total area, or 5,600 hectares, has already been flooded. True, this is not much.
Dmitry Medvedev: Not much at all.
Viktor Zubkov: The Government has therefore ordered the implementation of a large number of measures to improve the situation. They include, first of all, identifying the location and area of all of the peat bogs in most urgent need of fire prevention and flooding. The Federal Agency for Forestry has made land available for carrying out preliminary work and the Moscow Region government has drawn up a timetable for the peat bog flooding. The Finance Ministry has allocated 400 million rubles for flooding peat bogs in 2011.
Dmitry Medvedev: When did the Finance Ministry do this?
Viktor Zubkov: The money was earmarked in the 2011 budget, and I think the regions will start to receive it at the start of May.
Dmitry MEDVEDEV: Mr Zubkov, as I understand it, the Finance Ministry earmarked this money at your request, and in accordance with the decisions taken by the country’s leadership. But it is almost May now, and this money should have gone out to its recipients in February, not in May. Only 9 percent of the total peat bogs have been flooded. We all know how the situation could develop and what this could mean. It is not for nothing that people are already writing in about this.
Viktor ZUBKOV: Can I continue?
Dmitry MEDVEDEV: Yes, but I want to know why this work did not begin earlier.
Viktor ZUBKOV: For a start, because the peat bogs were under two metres of snow in January and February, and so the money simply could not be used yet. The work has begun now, in April.
Dmitry MEDVEDEV: Ok, continue now, and then I will share my own thoughts on this matter.
Viktor ZUBKOV: Coming now to the matter of selecting one single company to carry out the preliminary preparations and construction work, I turned to you on this issue and you made a rapid decision and instructed the Government to select a company to carry out this work, so it issued a relevant resolution. Had this not been done, the preliminary preparations might have dragged on until September, and we would not have been able to start the peat bogs’ reconstruction and development this year.
But this work is underway now. Joint stock company Mosstroimekhanizatsiya was chosen as the sole provider of these construction and design services, which is very important. The company has already begun its work, and the money is available. The Moscow Region has allocated 80 million rubles for preliminary work, which is also very important right now. We just need to coordinate all of these efforts now, which we are doing on a weekly and daily basis.
Dmitry MEDVEDEV: It is good that you are doing this every week and every day, but the problem is that the peat bogs are already starting to burn. After last year’s unfortunate experience, all of this work should have begun last year before the snow arrived. If additional money was needed the Finance Ministry and other agencies would have been around to provide it. All of this should have been done last year.
Let’s hear now what Mr Gromov has to say about the current situation, and then we will hear from the heads of the Federal Agency for Forestry.
Governor of Moscow Region Boris Gromov: Mr President,
Last autumn, we drew up a three-year timetable for flooding 65,000 hectares of fire-risk areas. As far as what has been done so far goes, in addition to what Mr Zubkov already said, over autumn last year and winter this year we flooded 6,000 hectares using the 300 million rubles allocated by the federal budget. There was also work carried out ‘on the ground’ — constructions to hold back snow and spring flood waters, building dams financed by the region, and cleaning the drainage channels that were used to dry the peat bogs – that made it possible to flood another 7,000 hectares. And so we have a total of 13,000 hectares flooded so far.
Dmitry Medvedev: How much should be flooded?
Boris Gromov: 65,000 hectares in total. But for now, these 7,000 hectares are subjected to tentative flooding as we did what we could and arranged for snow retention. Still, with the money that was allocated to us, 1.1 billion rubles, we will build proper installations. Besides, we have planned to build waterworks in all areas within those 65,000 hectares that have had fires. Thankfully, the contractors for draining peat bogs are known, and, by the way, Mosstroimekhanizatsiya which was chosen as the sole provider of these construction and design services, had been contracted for bog drainage, therefore they have adequate experience and are a capable company.
In addition, we are finalising design and survey works, so that in May, right after the holidays, we could commence proper flooding. Furthermore, this year, for the first time ever a large fleet of vehicles is formed. Regional budget allocated 600 million rubles for purchase of new fire-fighting equipment, various devices installed onto Ural and Kamaz trucks of high cross-country ability. In counties where peat bogs are burning, the fire-fighting equipment is fully substituted with the new one. The Defence Ministry supplied some equipment as well, namely 30 decon trucks with further 80 to be delivered so that virtually every village has such a truck.
Moreover, we have acquired 3,000 backpack extinguishers for volunteers, for volunteer brigades that have been set by now. We have completed bunding of all settlements, especially those of summer houses, on the areas in question, in order to prevent inundation due to flooding. We have formed a special group that I am heading which issues written instructions and action plans to heads of all municipalities.
As for today’s complaints about the smell of the smoke, allow me to say that jointly with the Emergencies Ministry we are surveying the areas around the clock and have detected three minor peat bog fires in the Shatura county, which were immediately extinguished. Therefore the smell was most likely that of burning dry grass.
Dmitry Medvedev: Hopefully, that’s the case as people may not feel the difference.
Boris Gromov: Especially since Lytkarino is far away [from detected peat bog fires].
Dmitry Medvedev: Here is what I want to figure out. We had a meeting recently, somewhat a month ago, I think, where the Head of the Federal Agency for Forestry, the Emergencies Minister, and some other colleagues were invited. I cannot remember whether Mr Trutnev [Yury Trutnev, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Minister] was there or not.
The problem is not just getting ready for the wildfires, but also timely completing procedures involved. A month ago – (addressing Mr Trutnev) I think I was speaking with you – it was said that if we fail to urgently accomplish all procedures now, then we will find ourselves unprepared. I want to know why they couldn’t have been completed back in January. Well, peat bogs could not be physically reached because of the deep snow, that explanation is accepted, although in all seriousness, that should have been anticipated and the process launched last autumn. What was wrong about the procedures then? Wasn’t it possible to draft the documents required, including the decisions to be approved by the President and the Government? Whose responsibility was this? Mr Maslyakov, what has been done?
Head of the Federal Agency For Forestry Viktor Maslyakov: Mr President, last year, we changed the overall forest management system in Moscow Region.
Dmitry Medvedev: So we are clear, I am not talking about Moscow Region right now and this meeting is not about Moscow Region alone. We have an enormous Government that must perform its immediate duties, and if required, invite Mr Gromov to its meetings. It is not for the President to be involved with separate regions, as there is a large Government for that. The situation is typical everywhere, including Moscow which is the capital, a major metropolis surrounded by multiple towns.
Overall, are the relevant documents ready throughout the country? Have they been approved? What’s the situation in other areas?
Viktor Maslyakov: Mr President, the documents are in fact ready, and in line with Mr Zubkov’s instructions, we visited various regions that were in delay. If necessary, I could report on that separately. As far as the approaching fire-hazardous season is concerned, this year we indeed are much better prepared for it. We have abandoned tender procedures and actually formed a forest fire-fighting service.
Dmitry Medvedev: Why were the tender procedures abandoned in April? Why not in January? I discussed this issue with the Emergencies Ministry. Why was this only done now? Wasn’t everything clear long ago? If it makes sense to abandon tender requirements [in obtaining flooding and fire-prevention services], then draft the documents.
Viktor Maslyakov: The law No. 442 that was passed on December 29, 2010 went into force on January 1, 2011 only, then all of the documents were drafted, so with the fire-hazardous season…
Dmitry Medvedev: What does the law No. 442 have to do with anything? You requested abolishing tenders, and that was granted.
Viktor Zubkov: That’s a different issue, Mr President. With regard to the overall situation with forest fires and the whole situation you are speaking about, we put in enormous efforts in all regions this year, as never before. We instructed the Agency for Forestry to make agreements with all the regions, and so it was done. The regions now got managing bodies, staff, forest rangers, and they are getting new equipment. Beginning on January 1 of this year, we doubled budget financing, allotting 9.5 billion rubles toward acquiring fire-fighting equipment and inventory for chemical stations. We also allocated 4.5 billion rubles as subsidies to cover fire prevention activities. Never before has the Government taken measures of such scale.
Dmitry Medvedev: It is good that you are taking measures, but if there are wildfires, nobody will remember about those measures, Government meetings and its strict instructions. Instead, people will write to me and the Prime Minister that no lessons were learned.
Viktor Zubkov: We will have to have the public adequately informed.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes. Please do. But again, the reason I mentioned the peat bogs is that I was advised that all the procedures which were supposed to be accomplished at the very beginning of the year, only were completed very recently. And that was the outright responsibility of the Government, not the regions, and certainly not volunteer fire brigades, but the Government’s responsibility. So colleagues, consider this a kind of jolt, my last warning on this matter.
You must not only complete all procedures, but also start the practical work, rather than reporting to me on money allocations by the Finance Ministry under some law. You must be using the money, not just waiting for it to appear on the account. If you don’t manage, you will all go to the bogs to put out the fires, I mean the Government of Moscow Region and the Government of the Russian Federation. This is a major problem, and most importantly, we have enough funds to deal with it as the national budget is not too tight.
Have it sorted out and take this as the top priority assignment in view of the oncoming summer. That’s it, thank you.