Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited Kemerovo in Siberia where on Sunday, an inferno in a shopping centre claimed the lives of 60 people, most of whom were children. Putin paid his respects to the victims while appearing to be on the verge of tears. Throughout Russia, a combination of grief and anger has been palpable with people wanting to know why a fire was able to spread so quickly and why no normal safety precautions were made.
Putin said the following before the people of Kemerovo,
“The first feeling when they speak about the number of the dead and dead children – you want, not to cry, but howl. What is going on, this isn’t warfare, or a sudden methane outburst in a mine. People, children, came there to relax. We talk about demographics, and we lose so many people to what? To criminal negligence, to sloppiness. Every official’s actions need to be legally assessed. They’ll sign anything for money”.
The Russian President’s anger echos the following suggestions I made yesterday,
“The tragedy in Kemerovo could have been easily prevented if corrupt and avaricious building contractors did not cut corners during construction. Likewise, the operators of the shopping centre were further negligent in failing to maintain effective fire alarms, sprinkler systems and well lit escape routes in the event of an emergency.
While Russia has laws on the books designed to ensure the safety of large public structures, these laws need to become far more elaborate. Both new and old laws must be enforced much more acutely. Furthermore, Russian authorities should consider far harsher penalties for violations in construction and building maintenance up to and including a re-introduction of the death penalty for those found guilty of gross negligence.
A society is only as strong as its infrastructure and at present, the Russian authorities, particularly at a local and regional level have themselves been derelict in their duties to ensure safe public spaces and homes for the Russian people.
The deterrent quality of the death penalty in cases of negligence should not be underestimated. Corrupt building and maintenance companies will only cut corners and use inferior construction products, while failing to safely maintain structures if they think that they can get away with it. If strict prosecutions of all those responsible for the shopping centre inferno are not pursued to the furthest extent of the law, they will have gotten away with mass murder and others will continue to priorities saving money over saving lives.
Russia must take immediate steps to inspect all large public structures throughout the country, force urgent repairs when necessary and prosecute all those who continue to be negligent. Anything less will represent a total abrogation of government responsibility to the people”.
It appears that President Putin has heeded the calls of many to clamp down harder on those who put lives in danger. While western leaders were engaged in the expulsion of Russian diplomats on Monday, the Presidents of China and Turkey joined the Russian people in offering their condolences to the dead.